ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Rocco Baldelli’s career nearly came to an end during spring training. Five months later, he’s delivering key hits to spark Tampa Bay’s surprising playoff drive.
Baldelli hit a game-winning RBI double in the ninth inning and the AL East-leading Rays came back from a four-run deficit to beat the Baltimore Orioles 10-9 on Saturday.
Baldelli missed most of the season due to a mitochondrial disorder, a condition that slows muscle recovery and causes fatigue. His return was uncertain, and after missing much of the last few seasons because of hamstring injuries, his career was very much in question.
“I didn’t think in spring training that I’d be part of anything like that,” said Baldelli, who was mobbed by teammates after his first career walk-off hit. “I wanted to, but I didn’t think it was a possibility. Sometimes you get things that you don’t expect. So it was nice.”
Baldelli started the season on the disabled list and was activated on Aug. 10. In part-time duty, he is hitting .294 with two homers and six RBIs in 12 games.
“I know that the guys were pulling for him,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I know that everybody feels especially happy for him. He looks really comfortable out there and I like that.”
The Rays, a major league-best 51-19 at home, have won the first two games of the three-game set and improved to 12-0-1 in series play since the All-Star break.
“Our guys are really aware of what’s going on,” Maddon said. “You can tell by the intensity.”
Tampa Bay went up 9-8 in the seventh when Orioles reliever Alberto Castillo hit Baldelli with a pitch with the bases loaded.
Jay Payton and Aubrey Huff homered for Baltimore, which has lost nine of 11. Huff’s homer was his 30th, making him the first Orioles’ player to have 30 homers in a season since Miguel Tejada (34) in 2004.
After Huff’s homer gave the Orioles a 5-3 lead in the third, Ramon Hernandez increased the lead to 7-3 in the fifth with an RBI single. But the Rays came right back, pulling within two on Dioner Navarro’s RBI double and a run-scoring grounder by Gabe Gross in the bottom of the inning.
Baltimore pulled even at 8-all on a seventh-inning sacrifice fly by Hernandez.
Andy Sonnanstine, who failed in his bid to tie Rolando Arrojo’s team single-season win total of 14 set in 1998, allowed six runs and seven hits in 3 1-3 innings.
Orioles rookie starter Chris Waters, who resides about 50 miles away from Tropicana Field in Lakeland, Fla., started off poorly, walking four straight batters in the first. He gave up five runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings.
“Little bit of nervousness in my first game in my hometown,” Waters said. “Thirty people here to see me and I just let it overwhelm me.”
Baltimore pitchers have walked 18 and allowed 24 runs over the past two games.
“I think we’re making it a whole lot more difficult than we should,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.
Markakis was awarded a double on interference in the third when a fan reached over the right-field fence and touched the ball while trying to make a catch. Umpires chose not to use instant replay review, and TV replays showed the call was correct. … Rays All-Star 3B Evan Longoria (right wrist) is not expected to be ready to play in a three-game series with the New York Yankees that begins Tuesday. … Rays closer Troy Percival (knee) could be activated from the disabled list in time for the Yankees’ series. … Markakis made two diving catches in right. … Tampa Bay signed a two-year player development contract with Class-A Bowling Green of the South Atlantic League.