ST. PETERSBURG — The cramping in Rocco Baldelli's left leg during his final at-bat Wednesday was a severe enough concern that the Rays removed him from their playoff roster.
But the real pain was in his heart. And theirs.
Baldelli's unlikely comeback had been a stirring subplot to the Rays' season, and when it came to an end Thursday — possibly along with his career — the sadness was as evident on their faces as in their words.
"The last day or so has been very disappointing for me, to say the least," said Baldelli, 29. "It's not something that I anticipated."
"Rocco is as much a part of the Rays family as any player that's ever worn this uniform," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "To see it happen like this is really tough for all of us."
Baldelli's once-promising career has been short-circuited by injuries and an illness, diagnosed as a mitochondrial disorder, that causes muscle fatigue. He said he hadn't decided whether to continue trying to play or retire and possibly return to coaching (as he did the first part of the season).
"I love playing, so I really don't know anything else to do," he said. "It's what I like doing, so I keep coming back. It's been difficult, but I think it's all generally been worth it … everything that I've gone through and come back from, even if it's coming back for September and getting to watch my teammates right now. I would do it all over again."
The Rays had big plans for Baldelli in the division series, as the DH in Games 1, 2 and 5, and little reason for concern. He had been feeling well since launching his comeback in July in the minors and during the 10 games he played for the Rays, including Sunday when he stole a base during their 12th-inning rally and scored the go-ahead run from second.
But he felt some cramping in his hamstring while warming up Wednesday, and it continued during the game, including while he was batting in the seventh inning. "At that point," he said, "I knew I was probably not in good shape."
He came in early Thursday to work out again, and when it was clear he wouldn't be able to play the Rays petitioned MLB for permission to replace him with Willy Aybar, a process that includes having an MLB-affiliated doctor speak to the team doctor.
Baldelli is eligible to be reinstated if the Rays reach the World Series, but Friedman said "it would be hard to imagine" him coming back at that point.