ST. PETERSBURG -- Johnny Damon's first-inning double Saturday against the Marlins didn't just lead to the Rays' first run, it put him in elite company.
With the two-bagger in Tampa Bay's 7-4 win, Damon became the 11th player in Major League Baseball history to rack up 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 HRs and 2,500 hits in his career. The milestone was met with a standing ovation from the 20,495 in attendance.
"The fans were incredible," Damon said. "I know that this is my first three months with the team, but the fans really showed me how much they cared and how they respected what I just accomplished."
Damon joins George Brett, Lou Gehrig, Goose Goslin, Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, Paul Molitor, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Al Simmons and Robin Yount as the only other players to accomplish the feat. All 10 are members of the Hall of Fame.
- 131 wins
- 121 wins
Rays manager Joe Maddon believes that Damon should be inducted when he chooses to retire.
"You look at all the stuff he has done, and when you talk about deserving the Hall of Fame, absolutely," Maddon said. "He deserves not only strong consideration, but acceptance."
For now, Damon, who attended Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., is just appreciative of the chance to play baseball near home.
"I'm just enjoying playing so close to home for the Rays," he said. "It's really a dream come true for me. There's nothing like being a Floridian so close to home, and playing for the team that I'm going to be rooting for, for a very, very long time when my playing career is over. It's awesome."
Niemann set to return; Cobb heads to Triple-A
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays will add a big piece to their pitching staff when right-hander Jeff Niemann returns to the rotation Monday.
Niemann, who was placed on the disabled list on May 6 with a lower back strain, will be reinstated before he takes the mound on Monday against the Brewers. Right-hander Alex Cobb was optioned to Triple-A Durham to make room for Niemann on the roster.
"I've been working and doing everything I can," Niemann said. "Between me and the training staff, we've done a great job of getting it right and getting it strong."
In his final rehab start with Triple-A Durham, the 6-foot-9 right-hander turned in 5 1/3 scoreless innings and threw 92 pitches without any pain. Niemann said he "felt stronger and better" after each of his three rehab starts, and that his velocity is where it should be.
Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn't expect to have to place any limitations on Niemann, who posted a 1-4 record and a 5.74 ERA before he went down with the injury.
"If I had one concern, it would be health being an issue, and it's not," Maddon said. "He stretched out and he was around 90 [pitches] last time, which means he can give us 105 or 110 if necessary."
Rays don't view Citrus Series as rivalry
ST. PETERSBURG -- Every time the Rays and the Marlins get together, it's billed as the Citrus Series.
But just because both teams play in Florida doesn't necessarily mean the squads consider it anything more than another a three-game set.
"I really don't honestly believe the fans see it as being a rivalry," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I really don't. The best way to get that done is to include us in the same league or the same division. That might stir something up."
Each franchise has enjoyed its share of success. The Rays won the American League East in 2008 and '10, and also made an appearance in the 2008 World Series. The Marlins won two World Series titles in 1997 and '03.
Still, Maddon said because the two teams play so "infrequently," the Citrus Series hasn't built enough of a reputation for it to be something the players can get excited for.
At one point, a Citrus Series Trophy was created to help inject some excitement within the in-state matchup. That trophy has been gone for some time, though.
"If it was the American Legion team from Tampa Bay versus the American Legion team from Miami, possible the trophy would work," Maddon said. "Being that we're professionals, I don't think the trophy is enough of a motivation.
"I can't see the guys holding it up, running around the field and drinking out of the cup."
Rays enjoying sense of structure at home
ST. PETERSBURG -- After an 11-game road trip in which the Rays visited four different cities, the players and coaches were exhausted.
Fortunately for Tampa Bay, this week's schedule has helped fix that. The first five games of the team's current homestand have all started at 7:10 p.m. ET, which has helped give the Rays a sense of structure.
"It's helped me a little bit, I know that," manager Joe Maddon said. "Just sleep patterns, it's been very weird all week to sleep in one day and getting up early the next day. But the point is you do have a chance to catch up.
"I think everybody has had a chance to catch up on their sleep this week, and that's really important."
Even before the long road trip, the schedule was already starting to affect the Rays. On the homestand prior to the long stretch away from Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay was forced to play six games at five different start times.
"It really throws off your timing of the day," Maddon said. "Its been really nice to play every game at the same time of the day during the course of this week."
The Rays' wives lost to the Marlins' wives, 6-1, in a softball game at Tropicana Field before Saturday's game. Pitcher James Shields coached Tampa Bay's squad. ... Tampa Bay entered Saturday's game tied with Philadelphia for the Major League lead with a .988 fielding percentage. ... The Rays' pitching staff has held opponents to a .236 batting average, which is the lowest in the American League.
Anthony Chiang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.