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A stately performance

Baldelli shines on Rhode Island Day

The evening began with a photo op. All the luminaries from the great state of Rhode Island stood in a semicircle near the Fenway Park infield as part of the festivities for Rhode Island Day. Smiles were everywhere as the film rolled.

And there, on one end, stood the pride of Woonsocket, Tampa Bay center fielder Rocco Baldelli, flanked by Wally, the mascot of the Red Sox, and Paws, the mascot of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Does it get any better than that?

"I was right between them," Baldelli said. "That was my spot in the picture. Nice."

He then went out and hit his first home run in Fenway Park, a moon shot over everything in left field, and the Devil Rays stunned the Red Sox, 7-0. Baldelli, who is making a pretty strong case for American League Rookie of the Year honors, went 2 for 5, reached base four times, scored two runs, and raised his average to .294. His biggest rival for rookie honors -- the Yankees' Hideki Matsui.

Three communities in Rhode Island can actually lay some claim to Baldelli. He was born in Woonsocket, attended high school in Warwick, and now lives in Cumberland. Normally, when the Devil Rays come to Boston, Baldelli leaves 10 tickets for his dad, who parcels them out. Last night, however, he left 15 tickets, a personal high.

He put on a pretty good show. He jumped all over a 1-and-0 Jeff Suppan slider leading off the third and NASA is still tracking it.

"That one felt pretty good," said Baldelli, who has 11 homers and 74 RBIs. "But no hitter likes to say he got all of it. You hit a home run, you downplay it."

Even at Fenway?

"You know what it's like when you're little," he said. "You imagine yourself playing in the closest big league park to where you live. This is where I saw games growing up -- and over at [Pawtucket's] McCoy [Stadium], too. So those were places I'd imagine myself hitting home runs."

Baldelli also played a role in Tampa's two-run sixth inning. He singled to left, chasing Suppan, and eventually came around on pinch hitter Al Martin's two-out, two-run single to right off Mike Timlin. From there, the Devil Rays survived what manager Lou Piniella called "seven good, adventurous innings" from wild starter Victor Zambrano and handed the Sox their first Fenway shutout since Aug. 28, 2002, when the Yankees' Mike Mussina beat Pedro Martinez, also by a 7-0 score. Then again, Zambrano usually is an adventure. He hit two batters last night, increasing his league-leading total to 18. The next highest total is 12. He also leads the loop in walks and wild pitches.

"I still need to learn the movement of my ball," Zambrano said. "When I get to that point, I will walk less guys."

No kidding. Said Piniella of Zambrano, "He has a knack for getting out of problems. He made good pitches when he had to."

Give the Devil Rays their due. They took Martinez to the final out Tuesday and then held the Sox to six hits last night, two of them coming in the ninth. Marlon Anderson was a homer shy of hitting for the cycle and Zambrano has had a hand in the last five Tampa wins in Boston, going 4-0 with one save.

Baldelli's two hits, meanwhile, gave him 175 for the season, which leads all major league rookies. He also leads the American League in outfield assists with 14. He would be the ninth rookie to do that in the last 63 years. The 21-year-old Baldelli is on pace for a remarkable rookie year; should he continue at the clip he is now on, he would be only the third rookie in history to have at least 187 hits, 52 extra-base hits, 80 RBIs, 26 steals, and 91 runs. The others: Joe Jackson for Cleveland in 1911 and Carlos Beltran for Kansas City in 1999.

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