Baldelli homers on his first swing of season

Baldelli homers on his first swing of season

BALTIMORE -- The Rays had just lost a tough 8-7 game to the surging Orioles in the middle of a pennant race on Sunday, yet there was one play that made Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon smile.

Rocco Baldelli entered the game as a pinch-hitter and hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning off O's reliever Michael Gonzalez that pulled the Rays to within a run. It was Baldelli's first at-bat this season, and the timing couldn't have been better for a player who's battled through a lot in recent years.

"That's beautiful, isn't it?" Maddon said. "That ball was well struck, too. That's a great moment for him. It's a great moment for us as a group. It was kind of special, actually. It's very cool."

Baldelli was rehabbing shoulder issues during the offseason after playing with Boston during the 2009 season. He'd been with the Rays for five seasons before that, often working through some tough health issues.

In fact, the 28-year old actually began the 2010 season working with the Rays as a special instructor during Spring Training. The team then signed him to a Minor League deal on July 19, and Baldelli played at Class A Charlotte for 12 games before moving to Triple-A Durham, where he batted .273 in 11 games.

The Rays selected him from Triple-A on Wednesday, and he got his first at-bat when Maddon sent him up to pinch-hit for Matt Joyce in the seventh inning. Baldelli hit a shot into the left-field seats on his first swing.

"It felt pretty great, to be honest," Baldelli said. "It was nice to get back in there. Rarely is it going to work out like that, but I'll take it. 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 a ball the first day back is nice."