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09/29/12 1:26 AM ET

Offseason work paid off for Rodney

CHICAGO -- Fernando Rodney earned his 46th save Thursday night, breaking Rafael Soriano's club mark of 45 set in 2010.

The accomplishment was just the latest milestone reached by Rodney, whose career appeared headed in another direction at the end of last season.

Rodney accrued just three saves last season and 17 total over the past two seasons before coming to the Rays as a free agent prior to the 2012 season.

When Kyle Farnsworth, the Rays' 2011 closer, began the season on the disabled list, Rodney was given a shot to become the team's closer and the rest is history.

"It's something I did, I didn't have a plan to do this this year," Rodney said. "I had the opportunity to prove to [Rays manager Joe Maddon] that I can pitch at this level in this game. And it happened."

Rodney smiled when asked if he was surprised at what he's accomplished this season.

"I worked hard in the offseason last year," Rodney said, "so I could get an opportunity to trust the stuff I have and be in the game."

Rodney is closing in on the all-time Major League mark for the lowest ERA by a reliever (minimum 50 appearances). His 0.62 ERA is third lowest in Major League history, trailing Oakland's Dennis Eckersley (0.6136 ERA, 1990) and Cleveland's Al Benton (0.6207, 1949).

Rodney would pass Eckersley's record with another 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

"Where he's come from, last year and the year before that, that's the part that's probably the most incredible," Maddon said. "To be as dominating as he is right now coming off some really tough times. It's a tribute to him, too. Opportunity was here. He seized it and he's run with it, but it's kind of amazing."

Fuld surprised by quick recovery

CHICAGO -- Sam Fuld drew a pinch-hit walk Thursday night and, to the surprise of many, he remained in the game to run the bases.

Prior to that, Fuld had not played since Sept. 16, when he left the game with a mild strain of his right hamstring.

"It's good ... feels good," Fuld said. "It's tough to know whether I'm 100 percent. I haven't really pushed it to where I feel like it's 100 percent, but it's pretty close. I still want to be cautious with it, but I also don't want to let back."

Fuld, who started in left field and led off on Friday night, can be counted among the surprised by his speedy recovery.

"Even when it happened, I wasn't overly optimistic I would be back," Fuld said. "I know [Evan Longoria] and I had completely different injuries with the hamstring. But just knowing what happened to him and [the Dodgers'] Matt Kemp. Hamstrings usually linger and I'm certainly aware of that."

And Fuld's legs are a bigger part of his game than Longoria's and Kemp's.

"Which is why I was not that optimistic about coming back, especially this early," Fuld said.

Extra bases

• Rays pitchers entered Friday's action having not allowed a home run in their past six games, matching the club record set previously in 2005, 2006, and 2010. The Rays gave up only one home run in the previous nine games. That home run was by Boston's Jose Iglesias, who hit his only home run in the Major Leagues. Fifty-four homerless innings have passed --the current club mark is 59 1/3 set June 11-17, 2006.

Alex Rios homered to lead off the fourth inning against Jeremy Hellickson in the Rays' 3-1 loss.

• During the Rays' eight-game win streak, they outscored their opponents by a 58-19 margin.

• Entering the day with an 86-70 record and a two-game deficit in the American League Wild Card race, the Rays stood in the exact same position they were in a year ago. The Rays lost Game 157, 5-1, to Toronto to fall to 2 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, who were rained out at the Yankees. After that, the Rays did not lose again, winning their final five games to clinch the AL Wild Card berth with a win over the Yankees in Game No. 162 on Sept. 28.

• Jose Molina has been out since Tuesday with a right quad strain. Rays manager Joe Maddon said the veteran catcher could possibly see action Friday night, but is still a "day or two" away from starting.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.