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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014

Rays notes: Another pregame animal adventure

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ST. PETERSBURG -

Hours before the Rays and Yankees took the field, there was a surreal atmosphere behind the scenes Wednesday at Tropicana Field.

Inside the clubhouse, a couple of penguins waddled around, followed by their handlers. Players had to watch their step as the 6-year-old penguins, Shelly and Cliff, had the run of the place.

It was the latest pregame twist ordered up by manager Joe Maddon, who also produced a DJ, a magician and a 22-year-old Umbrella Cockatoo in the clubhouse during a six-game homestand.

“You always hear about The Ray Way and the rules or non-rules that Joe has,” Rays DH Shelley Duncan said. “It’s all true. What he’s doing lately is a lot of fun. We had a DJ and today, we have penguins. I missed the cockatoo yesterday, but I saw Shelly today.”

While his foray into Animal Kingdom continued, Maddon strolled around the room with one of the 10,000 gnomes in his likeness that were distributed to early-arriving fans at Wednesday’s game.

“It’s a great replica,” Maddon said. “I think it looks exactly like me and I’m very humbled that someone in the Rays organization would choose to make me into a gnome. … It’s very flattering.”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Rays OF Ben Zobrist was shooting video of the penguins to bring home to his young children.

“I’m not surprised at penguins,” Zobrist said. “I’m not surprised at anything, anymore.”

Difference of opinion Maddon said he was unaware that Rays LHP David Price, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, was upset about being pulled in the ninth inning of a tie game Tuesday.

Price was lifted after yielding a leadoff single to Robinson Cano. Fernando Rodney eventually gave up a two-run hit and New York held on for a 4-3 victory.

“I didn’t know about that,” Maddon said of Price’s abbreviated stint with a media horde surrounding his locker. “He probably was frustrated at that particular moment.”

Price, who won 20 games in 2012, is winless in five starts.

“David’s going to get really hot and carry us for a while,” Maddon said. “He’s really good, he’s very humble, he works very hard and he cares. I’m very understanding that there’s going to be hills and valleys through a baseball season.”

Keep it simple As the Rays prepare for their second long road trip of the month, tonight’s starter, Jeremy Hellickson, comes off a stellar effort against Oakland.

Hellickson combined with two relievers on a three-hitter in a 1-0 win, and right-handed hitters are batting only .111 against him as he heads to U.S. Cellular Field to face the struggling White Sox.

“Jeremy simplified things,” Maddon said of the 26-year-old right-hander. “What he’s doing now is what he does well — throwing fastballs for strikes down in the zone.

“He adds one of the best change-ups in the league and then here comes the curveball. More than anything, he’s throwing his fastball for a strike.’’

Noteworthy DH Luke Scott (calf strain) had the day off as he continues to rehab with Class A Charlotte. … Former Rays manager Lou Piniella worked the series as a Yankees analyst for YES Network. … Before the game, teammate Matt Moore presented Price with the 2012 Player’s Choice Award as the AL’s best pitcher. … Zobrist is 4-for-5 against Chris Sale, tonight’s starter for the White Sox.

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