BALTIMORE — As soon as the four-fingered salute came from the Baltimore bench signaling an intentional walk to Carlos Peña with two outs in the third inning, B.J. Upton started getting all kinds of advice.
Before heading to first, Peña told him, "Here we go, B.J., do what you do." From the on-deck circle, Pat Burrell said, "Don't let them do it to you." And from third base, Carl Crawford shouted, "Go get 'em."
"I had three guys at the same time telling me the same thing," Upton said. "So, yeah, it definitely felt pretty good."
Upton's three-run homer then, and the solo shot he added later, had all the Rays feeling that way, sending them on the way to a 9-1 victory that extended their franchise-best start to 6-3, though five of the wins are against the woeful Orioles. It also marked the first time they've won their first three road games of any season and equaled their number of road series sweeps (three or more games) from last year.
With all the Rays talking about the need to get off to a quick start and play better on the road, the early returns were encouraging.
"It means a lot," Peña said. "That's exactly what we wanted to do."
Peña did his part with a three-run homer in the first inning, starting Wednesday's matinee the way he finished Tuesday's marathon, and on consecutive pitches, about 16 hours apart. David Price did, too, improving to 2-0 with a solid seven-inning effort.
But the key to the day was Upton, whose performance will be a pivotal element of whatever success the Rays have or don't have this season. After extensive work this winter and through the spring with new hitting coach Derek Shelton to quicken how he gets his front foot down and hands ready to hit, Upton, while understanding it's early and a work in progress, didn't have much to show for it through eight games, with a .250 average and just two extra-base hits.
"I was getting a little nervous," Upton said. "You put in all that work and don't get any results. But you can't rush it, you've got to let it happen. Hopefully it's starting. Today's a good start."
The two-homer game was just the second in his 522 career games (and his 50th and 51st homers), but the Rays expect there to be many more. They talk often of how fast Upton's hands and bat are; "ultra-quick," manager Joe Maddon said. And how different and how loud the ball sounds coming off his bat; "like one of those firecrackers, it's so short and snappy," Peña said.
Having him healthy, after last season was impacted more than expected by his recovery from left shoulder surgery, and hitting the ball hard to the middle of the field (the homers were to left-center and just right of center), could make a huge difference.
"A productive B.J. makes Carlos a better hitter and a productive B.J. can pretty much turn us on," Maddon said. "He's got that kind of ability."
Upton said that like most hitters, he bristled when the O's walked Peña (with two outs and Crawford on third) and was determined to foil the strategy.
"Pat said, 'Don't let them do that to you,' " Upton said. "So I guess that would be not letting them do it to me right there."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]