- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2008

BOSTON | The disease that plagues Rocco Baldelli - mitochondrial myopathy - sounds almost made up or at the very least stolen out of Star Wars. The affliction, however, is all too real for the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder, who is forced to deal with severe fatigue and muscle deterioration every time he steps on the field.

“It’s not very well understood,” he said. “And before I was dealing with it, I probably had never heard of it, to be honest with you. And I’m sure most people haven’t.”

The disease, which was diagnosed earlier this season, prevents Baldelli from exerting himself to normal levels for a major league ballplayer. He can’t run out routine grounders. He doesn’t track down deep drives to the gap.

If he tries to go all out, his body says no. His muscles begin to burn to the point they no longer function properly.

So imagine Baldelli’s joy when he made the Rays’ playoff roster. And imagine his emotions Monday night when he clubbed a three-run homer to help lead Tampa Bay to a 9-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

“My goal was to just get back with the team and contribute any way I could,” the former first-round draft pick said. “I never could have imagined that I’d be back here playing in the postseason and playing here at Fenway and having a chance to play to go to the World Series. I mean … that’s just kind of icing on the cake because I was just trying to get back in playing shape.”

Ellsbury benched

With his offense struggling to produce, Red Sox manager Terry Francona made two key changes to his lineup for Game 4.

Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, hitless in 14 ALCS at-bats, was benched in favor of Coco Crisp, who was 3-for-6 with two doubles through the series’ first three games.

Francona, though, elected to bat Crisp seventh. He made right fielder J.D. Drew his unorthodox leadoff hitter for the night.

Drew stole only four bases this season but he reached base at a .408 clip.

“His on-base skills are needed,” Francona said.

Also on the bench for the start of Tuesday night’s game was catcher Jason Varitek, who has gone 0-for-10 in the series.

Backup Kevin Cash started behind the plate for the first time in the postseason, though he would have been there even if Varitek was producing. Cash is Boston’s designated catcher for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who started Game 4.

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