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Pena coming up big when Rays need him most

ST. PETERSBURG — Carlos Pena may not be able to match his career-best numbers from last year's comeback player of the year season.

But he is certainly having an MVP-type month, and manager Joe Maddon said Pena's play is "setting an example for the rest of the group."

Pena did it again Saturday, delivering the tying two-run double in the sixth before hustling to score from first on Rocco Baldelli's double for the winner in the ninth.

In a potentially trying month in which the Rays lost Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Troy Percival to injuries, they've gone 20-7, matching the most wins in a month in franchise history. In seven of those games, Pena has delivered a tying or go-ahead RBI. He has racked up 28 RBIs, more than one-third of his total of 83, in August.

"Carlos has really elevated his game recently; he's looking a lot like he did at the end of last season," Maddon said. "He's really playing baseball right now at a very high level."

LONGORIA OUT FOR YANKEES? Maddon said he "wouldn't count on" Longoria (fractured right wrist) returning for the Yankees series starting Tuesday.

"I would say probably not; it doesn't look really hopeful," Maddon said. "I wouldn't count on it. I'm not saying it won't happen, but I won't count on it."

When Longoria went on the disabled list Aug. 11, the Rays estimated he could return on or around Sept. 1. But Maddon said Longoria would probably have to do live batting practice at least two-three days before he plays in a game, and Longoria is taking swings with a broomstick.

"I'm close to coming back," he said. "It's just that we're playing well anyway right now, so there's no need for me to rush back."

BIG PLAY B.J.: CF B.J. Upton tallied his 11th outfield assist, tied for third in the AL, in the first, throwing out Nick Markakis at home on a Luke Scott single. Upton, who raced back to make a catch in the eighth and made a diving grab in the ninth, also went 2-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs. "That's why he's such a big part of our future," Maddon said. "For me, he's playing very inspired right now, and believe me, I'd like to see that for the next 15 years."

BACK ON TRACK: Maddon credited LHP J.P. Howell for keeping the Rays in the game by giving up one run in 22/3 innings, his longest outing since Aug. 6. Maddon has recently limited appearances for Howell, among the leading AL relievers in innings, especially after Howell experienced soreness. Said Howell: "It was definitely big for my confidence to trust my body again."

SONNY STRUGGLES: RHP Andy Sonnanstine, who gave up six runs and seven hits in 31/3, failed to last five innings for the first time since April 14, a streak of 23 games. "I just didn't feel very sharp," Sonnanstine said.

TENSE MOMENT: Markakis said he noticed RHP Dan Wheeler yelling at him after the outfielder admired his tying home run in the ninth. "I understand why he's frustrated," Markakis said, "but in a situation like that, game-tying home run, it was just a big hit."

MISCELLANY: C Dioner Navarro, who had sat out three straight games with sore hamstrings, went 1-for-4 with an RBI double. … Maddon said Percival (cartilage damage in right knee) likely won't be activated until at least Monday. … RHP Chad Bradford pitched 12/3 scoreless innings in his first meeting with his former team. … Ex-Ray Aubrey Huff became the first Oriole to hit 30 home runs since Miguel Tejada hit 34 in 2004. … The Rays agreed to a two-year extension with their Class A Columbus affiliate, which is moving to Bowling Green, Ky. Their agreement with short-season Class A Hudson Valley is also up for renewal.

Pena coming up big when Rays need him most 08/30/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 31, 2008 6:14pm]
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