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Milestone? To Smith, 3,000 was a millstone

When Wade Boggs made history with his 3,000th hit, he also made Bobby Smith's night.

Smith, called up from Triple-A Durham on July 22, has been biding his time the past two weeks while Boggs remained in the lineup marching toward 3,000.

Since the historic hit, Smith has started the past two games at third base. Smith had two hits, a walk and a stolen base Monday.

"It's time for him to get a chance to play," manager Larry Rothschild said. "I'll play Wade there and at first base and DH some, and move things around. But Bobby needs a chance to settle in and know he's going to be playing quite a bit."

Smith, a unanimous pick for the Topps All-Rookie team last season when he shared time at third with Boggs, hit .276 with 11 home runs and 55 RBI.

He got off to a slow start this season and was sent to Durham on May 17 after hitting .151 with five RBI. Herbert Perry replaced Smith in the platoon with Boggs.

When Perry was sidelined with a strained oblique muscle, Smith was recalled. Before his two hits Monday, Smith was 5-for-30 while playing sporadically since his call-up.

"I could use that as an excuse if I wanted, but that's not the reason," Smith said. "I just haven't been playing the way I could or the way I should."

The Rays have been at a loss to explain Smith's sudden drop-off.

"It's hard to say. That question is one we tried to attack when he had his problems earlier and we just couldn't come up with anything," Rothschild said. "Hopefully, by playing a little bit and getting comfortable, we'll see what happens."

PAIN IN THE BACK: Dave Martinez's back started to act up on the road trip last week and he was scratched from the lineup an hour before Wednesday's game in Seattle. He returned to the lineup Friday and Saturday, but was less than perfect.

"I wanted to be in the lineup for Wade's night," Martinez said. "But I was hurting out there."

Martinez stayed on the bench Sunday and Monday and said the rest had done him good.

"I told Larry I could play (Monday) but he said he wanted to give it another day of rest," Martinez said.

SWINGING: Kevin Stocker took batting practice for the first time since going on the disabled list July 22 with tendinitis in his left knee.

"It felt good in there, the knee felt fine," Stocker said. "The next big step is when I try to do some work in the field, but I won't be cleared for that until I can do a few more exercises in the weight room."

Stocker expects to play a few games during a minor-league rehab assignment before being activated. That likely would not happen before next week.

HOT COMMODITY: The Rays gave out commemorative 3,000 hit cards to fans leaving Saturday night's game. To ensure that only those in attendance have the collector's item, the Rays shredded the remaining 8,000 cards.

MORE COLLECTIBLES: Nikco Sports is selling 5,000 baseballs featuring a picture of Boggs and a stamped signature along with the date of his 3,000th hit. The balls, which come in an enclosed case, are being sold for $34.95 each with a portion of the proceeds benefiting St. Jude's Children's Hospital. The balls can be purchased by calling (800) 345-2868.

RAYS BITS: He won't be on the field at the Trop this week because he's on the disabled list with a bad back, but you can catch a glimpse of Cal Ripken at the Devil Rays spring training complex (7901 30th Ave. N) this morning when he gives instruction in a private baseball clinic. Singer Donna Greenwall of Columbia, Md., is scheduled to perform the national anthem before tonight's game. The Rays are the only major-league team for which she has not sung the anthem. A camera crew from NBC's Today Show will be videotaping her for an upcoming segment.

SWAMI: Ray Martz of Clearwater was the winner of the Times contest to guess when Boggs would get his 3,000th hit. His was the only entry to correctly predict the sixth inning of Saturday's game. Martz will be awarded a ball and a jersey signed by Boggs.

A WHITE OUT: The Rays have been forced to use the bullpen more than any American League team this season and Rick White has pulled more than his share of the load. White made a career-high 50th appearance Monday, giving him 76 innings in relief. That ranks second to Oakland's Doug Jones in the AL.

White came in for Ryan Rupe in the sixth with runners on first and second and no out and he struck out the side.

"I felt really good in the bullpen tonight," White said. "There are some nights when you get here and you just feel locked in, and that's the way it was tonight."

INJURY UPDATE: Miguel Cairo is eligible to come off the disabled list today, but the Rays may want him to spend one more day in his minor-league rehab at Class A St. Petersburg to test his left hamstring in back-to-back games.

HOMECOMING: Orioles C Mike Figga, a product of Tampa's Plant High, played at Tropicana Field for the first time. Figga went 0-for-3 before being lifted for a pinch-hitter. "Hopefully I'll play some more games here throughout my career and do better," Figga said.

_ JOHN ROMANO

Up next:WEDDINGS

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