ST. PETERSBURG — B.J. Upton doesn't like going to hospitals, even when it involves his own family. So when the Rays received word of a patient at All Children's battling a life-threatening illness who wanted to meet Upton, he rather reluctantly agreed to a visit before Saturday's game.
As soon as Upton walked into 16-year-old Dom's room, he was pleased he had agreed to go.
"When he saw me, it changed his whole mood. He knew exactly who I was, and he had a big smile on his face," Upton said. "It's probably one of the tougher things I had to do, but I'm glad I did. It definitely gives you perspective."
Upton talked for a while with Dom (the hospital doesn't release last names), took photos and brought him a signed bat and ball plus a Rays gift bag. But Dom asked for something else, a home run. Upton couldn't quite comply but instead delivered a sixth-inning bases-loaded single that sent the Rays to a 4-1 win over the Twins.
"It wasn't a home run, but it was just as good," Upton said. "I told him (via the postgame TV interview) that one was for him. Hopefully he saw it. Like I said, it made my day.
"You get into the game and that's something you probably normally wouldn't think about. But I thought about it a little bit. I did. Because he told me he would be watching."
Dom missed Upton's hit live but caught the later innings on TV and, according to a rep from the Children's Dream Fund, which arranged the visit, was "sky high with joy."
Upton's hit made a winner of James Shields, who delivered another sterling effort as the Rays improved to 8-7 before a large and loud Tropicana Field crowd of 31,774. Shields (3-0) worked into the ninth and allowed one or no runs for the 14th time in his past 24 starts. Fernando Rodney, who has gotten the final out in seven of their wins, finished.
Shields allowed only two singles and a walk through the first five innings and got out of the only real trouble he had when third baseman Evan Longoria leaped to snare a line drive with the bases loaded to end the sixth. Manager Joe Maddon let Shields start the ninth, albeit with 112 pitches, but he was done after allowing a single and a double, leading to the run that snapped his scoreless streak at 191/3 innings.
"He just pretty much dominated us," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Upton had gone 0-for-3 and didn't hit the ball out of the infield Friday in his debut after coming off the disabled list as a result of a spring training collision with Desmond Jennings. Then Saturday he singled and grounded into a rally-killing, inning-ending double play his first two times up.
In the sixth, the Rays had men on second and third, due to aggressive baserunning by Carlos Peña and Longoria, and two outs when the Twins intentionally walked Matt Joyce to face Upton, who was 8-for-18 off Minnesota starter Carl Pavano. After battling back from 0-and-2 to 2-and-2, Upton lined a single to center that scored two, and an errant throw to third by centerfielder Denard Span made it 3-0.
"Got the piano off my back, especially after last night," Upton said. "I just told myself to relax, bear down, at least put the ball in play. Put the ball in play, you never know what's going to happen."
Or whose day you are going to make.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]abay.com.