ST. PETERSBURG — No matter how much the Tropicana Field crowd — as well as RHP Joel Peralta — called for RHP Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning Wednesday night, manager Joe Maddon wasn't going to use his All-Star closer unless it was absolutely necessary.
Maddon knew Rodney entered the season finale holding the single-season record for lowest ERA by a reliever in baseball history, percentage points better than Dennis Eckersley's 0.61 (1990). And Maddon wasn't going to risk history just for the fans' favor.
But after Peralta gave up a two-out single to Orioles C Matt Wieters, with the Rays up just three runs, Maddon gave everyone what they wanted, bringing Rodney in for the final out.
Rodney got DH Jim Thome to fly out to left then shot his imaginary arrow into the sky for the 48th and final time, receiving another standing ovation for his special season.
Rodney improved his reliever record for lowest ERA (0.60), allowing five earned runs over 742/3 innings.
"I was surprised by the year I had," said Rodney, who has a $2.5 million team option for next season. "Next year, I want to be the same guy and do my job."
Rodney started warming up in the ninth, in case the Orioles crept closer. And they did, scoring on a sacrifice fly by CF Adam Jones. Fans got to their feet and began chanting, "RODNEY!"
"I say, 'Come on guys, give me a night off tonight,' " Rodney joked.
Peralta also motioned from the mound to Maddon, asking to bring his good friend. Peralta did his part by giving up the single, and Maddon said it was the right moment for Rodney.
"I looked at (Rodney) warming up, I looked at Joe, 'Bring in the guy. Everybody wants him,' " Peralta said. "He deserves to be out there. He deserves to have that standing ovation over there."
QUICK START: RHP Jeremy Hellickson made a fine final start, allowing just one hit over 51/3 innings while striking out six. He walked one and threw 80 pitches. Said Maddon: "It's definitely a good way for him to go home this winter and think about this last game."
STANDING TALL: RHP Jeff Niemann threw off a mound Wednesday for the first time since suffering right shoulder inflammation in a Sept. 1 start, making 30 pitches (all fastballs) with no problems.
"It was a great day," Niemann said. Niemann plans to rehab throughout the offseason, potentially pitching in winter ball.
Most important, Niemann said he'll be able to report to spring training "100 percent ready to go, absolutely."
VOTE FOR VOGT: C Stephen Vogt came oh-so-close to his first big-league hit, nearly beating out a high chopper to second base in the seventh. Vogt finished his rookie season 0-for-25, becoming the first AL position player, and one of four players overall, to go oh-fer for the season with at least 25 at-bats.
PITCHING IN: The Rays finished leading the majors in ERA (3.19) and opponent's batting average (.228) and the AL with a record 1,383 strikeouts; they joined the 1999 Red Sox as the only teams in the past 25 years to lead the AL in all three categories. It's the lowest ERA by an AL team since the 1990 A's (3.18) and the lowest opponent average by an AL team in the DH era.
• Wednesday was the 12th straight game in which the Rays starter allowed two earned runs or fewer, since Sept. 21 vs. Toronto. Rays starters allowed two earned runs or fewer 101 times, most by an AL team since five teams did it in 1968.
IN THE SWING: The Rays offense led the majors with 571 walks. The last team to lead the majors in walks with a team batting average as low as the Rays (.240) was the 1968 Red Sox (582 walks, .236 average).
• The Rays struck out 1,323 times, third most in AL history behind the 2012 A's (1,387) and 2007 Devil Rays (1,324).
• The Rays finished one shy of the Twins (135) for most stolen bases in the AL.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.