Percival's career appeared over last summer when he rejected a Minor League contract from the Angels. But later, he accepted a similar deal with the Cardinals and quickly made the Major League roster before finishing 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 34 games.
Before signing with the Cardinals, the veteran right-hander had not pitched professionally since injuring his right forearm in July 2005. He attempted a comeback with the Tigers the next season, but he never saw the mound. Percival went as far as to sign a contract to coach with the Angels the following year.
Now, he's back and serving as the Rays' closer. He ranks fourth among active save leaders behind Trevor Hoffman (526 saves), Mariano Rivera (445), and Billy Wagner (358) and is one shy of Roberto Hernandez for 11th place on the all-time list. While it's nice to be among the elites of the game, Percival doesn't seem too concerned with where he ranks.
"At this point, what a save means is preserving another win," Percival said.
Of concern to the Rays is Percival's availability. Saturday marked his first appearance of the season.
"I'll try to be available every day that I can possibly be available," Percival said. "I'm sure [Rays manager Joe Maddon] will be as cautious as he can, but I didn't have any problems last year. I had two days where I felt I shouldn't pitch that day, and on one of those, I pitched. So that's not that big of a deal. Hopefully we won't have a situation where he has to think about it."
Percival and Maddon go way back, so the communication between the two is good. Maddon said he will be most concerned about being able to use Percival on day games following night games in which he pitches.
"We will talk to him every day after he pitches," Maddon said. "Whatever he says, I'm going to believe him; he's going to be very honest. If he can go, he'll say he can go. And if he can't, he can't."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.