BALTIMORE — For many days, Rocco Baldelli didn't know if, much less when, he'd ever play in another major-league game.
When he went through the offseason unsigned, when he spent the spring and summer working as a special assistant coach with the Rays minor-league teams, even right up until last week when he anxiously awaited word he was being called up from Triple-A Durham.
So Sunday, when he finally got to the plate again, all he did was hit a two-run pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning on his first swing.
"It felt pretty great, to be honest," Baldelli said. "It was nice to get back in there, it really was. I've been waiting a long time for it."
Of course, Baldelli said all the right things: that it would have been better had the Rays won, that he would have taken a strikeout just as well if they had, that it was only one at-bat.
But for all that Baldelli, 28, has been through — the freak injuries, the mysterious illness that threatened his career and even his life, the uncertainty after being let go by the Red Sox after last season and taking the unexpected opportunity to return to the Rays — it was obvious beyond his words how much it meant.
"On many occasions I wondered when my last game would be played," Baldelli said. "From the end of last year until now, I didn't know if I'd be back here and be back playing. And to come back and put a good swing on the ball the first day back is nice."
Even in defeat, his teammates acknowledged the moment.
"That's beautiful, isn't it?" Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That was a great moment for him, a great moment for us as a group. It was kind of special actually. It was kind of cool."
"I feel great for the guy," Evan Longoria said. "He's a professional in every respect. Just the pure persistence of his journey through the big leagues and back down and back up again — I can't do anything but commend him."
Baldelli laughed when asked where among his 61 regular- and postseason homers this one ranked.
After all, the last homer Baldelli had hit in the big leagues was against the Rays, off David Price on Sept. 3, 2009. And the last swing he'd taken as a Ray was his home run in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series.
So how did Sunday compare?
"It's one of the nicest homers I've ever hit," he said.