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Rays' Baldelli thrilled to contribute

Rocco Baldelli slides past A.J. Pierzynski to score from first on Dioner Navarro’s bloop double during the Rays’ three-run eighth.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Rocco Baldelli slides past A.J. Pierzynski to score from first on Dioner Navarro’s bloop double during the Rays’ three-run eighth.

ST. PETERSBURG — OF/DH Rocco Baldelli was touched just to be in the lineup Friday night. As uncertain as he was if he'd even get back on the field this season due to a rare muscle fatigue disorder, playing in the playoffs was "like a special present somebody gave me."

But it got even better Friday after he singled in a run in the eighth, then raced around from first, slid hard and touched the plate with the Rays' final run.

"The best part was probably looking up and seeing my dad and my brother and two of my best friends up there in the stands going crazy," Baldelli said.

As he struggled this season to accept and manage his condition, Baldelli started thinking about a lot of things, including life without baseball.

One thing he didn't think about was being in the postseason spotlight: "I don't know what scale I'm rating it on because it's all relative, but I would say very unlikely. I can't even explain how much more it is than I expected out of this baseball season."

Manager Joe Maddon said head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield deserves credit for his exhaustive efforts in finding a way to get Baldelli back.

EYE TO EYE: 1B Carlos Pena's left eye was better, the blurriness decreased enough that he appeared to be good to go. He was in the lineup, took ground balls and batting practice, and said that despite trouble with the brightness of the lights, he expected to play.

Then about a half-hour before game time, Maddon told him they had to see eye-to-eye.

"Joe started interrogating me, and you know how he is," he said. "He's a smart guy, and he started asking me all these questions. Eventually I had to tell him, 'Okay, Joe, look, I'm not 100 percent.' "

Pena was scratched, with Willy Aybar moving from DH to first and Baldelli from rightfield to DH, and rookie Fernando Perez starting in rightfield.

READY, MATE: Much was made, even in his native Australia, of RHP Grant Balfour's heated seventh-inning exchange Thursday with Sox SS Orlando Cabrera.

Balfour acknowledged that it may have stemmed from Cabrera misunderstanding his demonstrative style, but "I felt he was showing me up there." After striking out Cabrera then, he was eager for another shot: "I want to face him again; I'm ready for it."

He got that Friday with one on and one out in the sixth, throwing strikes on 95- and 94-mph fastballs, then getting Cabrera to ground out on one at 97.

This encounter was far less dramatic. "It was fine," Balfour said. "And I'm sure it's all water under the bridge and it's fine."

TRAVEL TIME: The Rays left for Chicago after Friday's game and made it something of a business trip, with no family members (a slight departure from regular-season rules) on a slightly larger team plane. … Four players not on the active roster are traveling, RHPs Jason Hammel and Edwin Jackson (who both threw in an instructional league game Friday), OF Jonny Gomes and C John Jaso. … RHP Troy Percival will throw in an instructional league game today, with hopes of rejoining the roster should the Rays advance.

Rays' Baldelli thrilled to contribute 10/03/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 5, 2008 9:40am]
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