ST. PETERSBURG — The odds certainly weren't in RF Gabe Gross' favor in his memorable matchup with Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the 11th inning Tuesday night.
Rivera, 38, whom Rays manager Joe Maddon calls "one of the best closers of all time," had been off to the best start of his Hall of Fame-caliber career; the hard-throwing right-hander hadn't allowed a run or walk in 14 games, the longest such streak to begin a season in his 14 seasons (spanning 453 saves).
But when one pitch got too much of the plate, Gross said he was "fortunate to get good wood on it" for the winning single up the middle.
"I just didn't get it done," Rivera said. "It's kind of hard when your team needs you, and you let them down like that. It's different."
It was definitely a different feeling for the Rays, whom Rivera has typically controlled (47 saves with a 1.09 ERA in 68 previous appearances).
"He's the best and he's been for some time," Gross said. "I didn't realize we won until I rounded first. I'll take a beating from my teammates after a win every day."
ROCCO UPDATE: OF Rocco Baldelli took batting practice before the regulars and said he feels good, continues to seek medical answers for his rare muscle fatigue condition and remains optimistic about eventually getting back on the field.
"I'm still trying to come back and play," Baldelli said. "I'm hoping that some of these medications I'm taking are going to help me get on the field for an extended period of time without having the problems that I had.
"That's kind of the next step, is just trying new things and just experimenting. It's like trial and error, and hopefully one of them works."
Maddon said there was no timetable of any kind, but it was obvious that seeing Baldelli — who hasn't played in a full year, since May 15 — on the field was a positive.
"He looked strong, and quietly he's working his way back through this thing; you never know," Maddon said.
Baldelli, 26, has continued to see various doctors about what has been generally described — for lack of more specifics — as mitochondrial disorder.
He suggested there may have been some progress, that doctors "found some things out" after an April muscle biopsy, but "it's not worth me discussing because they have to do confirmation tests on all the tests they've already done."
Baldelli had been sidelined for about two weeks with a leg infection but looked strong, and bearded, during Tuesday's workout, and it sounds as if he will increase activity as he can. He is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 29. "I was hitting BP and I'm throwing and stuff, it just depends on if I'm going to be able to do it every day," he said. "But as of now I feel real good."
BACK IN ACTION: INF Ben Zobrist was activated and will go right back into the super-utility role the Rays envisioned for him in the spring before he fractured his left thumb. That means he could be used at any infield position as well as in the outfield. Maddon even said he would consider starting Zobrist in rightfield against a left-hander, with Jonny Gomes as the DH.
REYES RUMBLINGS: RHP Al Reyes (biceps tendinitis) said he felt good after playing catch, a day after a one-inning rehab stint in extended spring. Reyes could be activated today. RHP Scott Dohmann seems likely to go, though he's out of options and the Rays would risk losing him through waivers.
AKI STREAK: 2B Akinori Iwamura extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single.
Times staff writer Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]