Philly fans being Philly fans, Pat Burrell wasn't quite sure what to expect when he stepped to the plate Saturday at Bright House Field. After helping the Phillies to a World Series title last fall, though, he needn't have worried.
Burrell was greeted warmly before popping out to end the first and got plenty of applause when he yanked a double down the left-field line leading off the fourth, his final at-bat of the day.
"They definitely made me feel appreciated today, and that doesn't always happen," Burrell said afterward. "I've seen some players come back that haven't gotten that kind of response, so I'm pretty grateful."
He'll have a couple more chances to soak in the love from fans who didn't always appreciate him as much as they do now. The Rays play an exhibition series in Philadelphia the weekend before the season opens, and Burrell said he plans to attend a pregame ceremony April 8 during which the players will be presented with their championship rings.
Burrell arrived at the ballpark well before the rest of the Rays and met with Phillies CEO David Montgomery to talk over the team's plans for commemorating the title. The day of the festivities, the Phillies host the Braves at 3:05 p.m. and the Rays play the Red Sox at Fenway Park four hours later. Burrell said he plans to fly into Philadelphia, take part in the ceremony and immediately hop on a plane back to Boston.
"That's just a coincidence, and fortunately for me it worked out," he said.
Though emotions surely will be running high that day, at least Burrell will have had some more time to get accustomed to his new surroundings. He wasn't quite there yet Saturday as he chatted with old teammates during pregame warm-ups and kept glancing across to the opposite dugout.
"I've got to be honest, it's different looking over there and seeing some of the guys and everything that goes along with that," Burrell said. "It was an interesting game for me to be a part of. But once that first inning got out of the way it was back to business."
GOODBYE FOR NOW
After an inning of work Saturday against the Phillies, reliever J.P. Howell left the Rays for a stint with the U.S. team for the World Baseball Classic that could run through March 23.
"I'm happy to be playing for Team USA, but it is kind of tough to leave," Howell said. "The trash-talking's getting to a peak right now, everyone's getting comfortable, so it's at the point now where it starts to be real fun."
Though he'll miss being in the Rays' clubhouse, Howell probably will have plenty of fun spending the next few weeks with a team of American All-Stars attempting to atone for a poor showing in the inaugural WBC.
"Just the names that I'm along with - enough said," Howell said. "Those guys have put all the years of work in and earned the right to be here. I'm kind of the new guy a little bit in this class and it's just a taste, so I'm excited."
Howell said he is slated to pitch in the second of Team USA's three exhibition games this week, Wednesday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. The U.S. opens tournament play Saturday against Canada in Toronto.
Also bowing out in the Phillies game was Willy Aybar, who is headed for Jupiter today to join the Dominican Republic for exhibitions before heading to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the first round of the tournament next weekend.
A stiff breeze blowing out to left field led to much of the scoring in a 12-5 Phillies win. Rays starter Mitch Talbot gave up three homers to left in the first inning, Tampa Bay LF Ray Sadler hit one of his own that way in the second and J.P. Howell gave one up to Ronny Paulino in the sixth on what Manager Joe Maddon described as a "fly ball to left." ... A crowd of 10,270, the largest in Bright House Field history, was in attendance.
Curt Schilling told the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday that if he returns to pitch this season (after missing all of 2008 following elbow surgery), he'd prefer it to be with a team like the Rays or the Cubs. ... Jason Hammel gets the start today against the Blue Jays in Port Charlotte. He'll be opposed by St. Petersburg native Jesse Litsch. ... After an impressive showing against the Yankees in his first start of the spring, Wade Davis will get the ball Monday against the Cardinals in Jupiter.