BOSTON -- When asked if this season's pennant race has been more challenging than 2008's, Rays manager Joe Maddon answered, "Yes." Then he explained why.

"I'm saying yes because of the [rise] of Toronto and now Baltimore," Maddon said. "This is definitely a reason to argue in favor of a more balanced schedule. We wouldn't have to see these teams as often."

Maddon rattled off the rest of the Rays' schedule this season, which includes more games against the Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles, then noted: "That's a form of baseball masochism right there."

Maddon said he'd rather see a more balanced schedule.

"And it's not just about not playing the Red Sox as many times or the Yankees as many times," Maddon said. "It's about not playing anybody that amount of times."

To that end, Maddon wouldn't mind seeing Interleague Play go by the wayside.

"I'm not a big Interleague guy," Maddon said. "I would rather just play the American League and balance it out as well as you can. That's what I would prefer. I'm OK without seeing a National League team until the World Series or the All-Star Game."

Having homered, Baldelli stays in lineup

BOSTON -- A day after Rocco Baldelli took his first swing of the season -- which produced a home run against the Orioles -- Rays manager Joe Maddon penciled in Baldelli as the designated hitter for Monday's game against the Red Sox.

"I was debating among him, [Willy Aybar], [Brad] Hawpe, I mean just looking at [Red Sox starter Jon] Lester and the way he pitches and the type of pitcher he is, the package he presents, I was just trying to come to a conclusion," Maddon said. "There was no real outstanding winner.

"Rocco having the good at-bat [Sunday] kind of helped me a little bit. I'm really not normally like that, but everything was so close among all the candidates that I chose Rocco today."

Maddon then got a twinkle in his eye when he added: "Plus, we're in Boston and he's from Rhode Island, so I thought that was a nice little subplot."

Baldelli, who spent all of his career with the Rays before playing for the Red Sox in 2009, was making his first trip to Fenway Park since he hit .253 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs for Boston last season.

"It's a pretty good feeling," Baldelli said. "I'm fine with whatever goes on, if we're winning games, I'm going to be happy whether that has me in the lineup or not. I think I'm to a point in my career where I want to play, but I think winning is the only thing that I'm worried about."

Maddon said he really enjoys having Baldelli on the team.

"Intelligent young man, treats the game properly, I like him a lot," Maddon said. "This guy's still a very good baseball player. He's really gifted. So I do enjoy being around Rocco, we all do."

Hawpe back at Fenway Park

BOSTON -- Rays outfielder Brad Hawpe played for the Rockies in the 2007 World Series against the Red Sox and had not been at Fenway Park since then until Monday afternoon.

"We lost [the World Series], but it's kind of funny looking around the clubhouse," Hawpe said. "I see spots and I kind of remember things that went on the last time I was here."

Hawpe hit .250 with a home run and two RBIs in 16 at-bats against the Red Sox during the World Series.

"I didn't do that well, but it doesn't matter what you do personally, it's about what you do as a team," Hawpe said. "It was a great experience and something I'll have the rest of my life memories-wise."

Extra bases

Evan Longoria hit his 20th home run Sunday at Baltimore. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is one of five players all-time with 20-plus home runs and 30-plus doubles in each of his first three Major League seasons, joining Albert Pujols, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Orlando Cepeda. ... The Rays have recalled right-hander Andy Sonnanstine from Hudson Valley (Class A). Sonnanstine was optioned on Aug. 31 to clear room for Hawpe. The addition puts the Rays' active roster at 31 (14 pitchers, 17 position players). ... Rays closer Rafael Soriano notched his 41st save on Aug. 31, tying Danys Baez for second most in club history behind Roberto Hernandez (43 in 1999). He has converted 18 consecutive saves since his last blown save, July 20 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, leaving him one shy of the club record for consecutive saves (19 by Hernandez, July 2-Sept. 17, 1999).