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Rays rookies handling playoff pressure

BOSTON — When rookie outfielder Fernando Perez was called up from Triple A in late August, he said he was ready to be a "fan" with a "front row seat."

But after scoring arguably the most important run of the Rays' season in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALCS, Perez was the center of attention Sunday afternoon with more than a dozen reporters around his locker at Fenway Park.

Calm, cool and collected, Perez said the whole night had been a "blur," from the busted lip he got in the home plate celebration to the congratulatory text messages and calls he received after his SportsCenter highlight reel slide.

"Everything," Perez said, "is really, really cool."

Perez and his fellow late-season callup, left-hander David Price, both proved cool under pressure in their watershed playoff moments; Price, the 2007 top pick, got two big outs in the 11th and the victory.

"Both these guys, they're really calm; they're really in the moment and they've handled the situation extremely well," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're not averse or apprehensive at all about utilizing either one of them. Once again, if they're part of a bright future, you're looking at what's going on right now, and I keep talking about this is just the beginning. I love what they've been doing, and again, it's how they've handled it as much as anything that's been most impressive."

There was Price, who warmed up a few times in the Saturday/Sunday marathon, chugging a couple of Red Bulls in the back room while he waited to get the call in the 11th. In getting himself out of a two-on, one-out situation, Price said he took the advice of 30-year-old first baseman Carlos Pena and just treated the playoff game like a bullpen session in the back yard with his dad.

"I tried to put it in perspective and say, 'It's still 60 feet, 6 inches to home plate,' '' Price, 23, said. "So it's just the same thing I've been doing for 22 years.''

Said leftfielder Carl Crawford: "He's a polished pitcher. Most guys can't go to the bullpen like that and just automatically be ready to pitch."

There was Perez, who rode the exercise bike at Tropicana Field starting at midnight, pedaling while patiently waiting for his chance to pinch run. And when Perez got on third, he "erred on the side of aggressiveness," deciding on his own to tag up and score on the shallow sacrifice fly.

The phrase impressed Maddon, but so did the fearlessness of Perez, 25, who Maddon admits "makes you think a little bit" about getting the speedy switch-hitter in the game more often.

"That's what I love about this guy: He's very confident in himself," Maddon said. "And he's not afraid to make a mistake. And I love that. I really like that a lot."

Said Crawford: "He's not intimidated by big-league pitching. He plays the game, plays good defense. You can't ask for too much more. …

"He's definitely been our dark horse."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Rays rookies handling playoff pressure 10/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 13, 2008 3:39pm]
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