ST. PETERSBURG — Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton has picked the perfect time — the postseason — for a power surge at the plate.
Upton did a little bit of everything in Saturday's Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. He walked. He stole a base. He used his speed to score the tying run in the fifth inning on a single by Carlos Pena. And finally, he delivered the game-ender, a sacrifice fly in the 11th inning to score Fernando Perez.
But what also stood out is that Upton hit a solo, tying homer in the third. It was Upton's fourth homer in six postseason games, an impressive streak considering he had hit just four in his final 84 regular season games (and nine overall).
Upton's homer total dipped this season from his career high of 24 in 2007 partly because he was playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury that affected his swing. Upton stopped taking batting practice more than a month ago to give it a break and has recently adjusted his approach at the plate to give his swing more power.
But power has been only part of Upton's strong postseason, which has included his two-homer game in the ALDS clinching 6-2 win over the White Sox on Monday.
Manager Joe Maddon talked pregame Saturday about how well Upton has fit in at the No. 2 spot in the order (which was usually taken up by Carl Crawford). Although Upton's home runs had been down, he led the Rays this season in on-base percentage (.383) and steals (44), a dual threat that makes opposing pitchers have to think about him when dealing with the Rays third hitter, Pena.
That dynamic came into play in the Rays' three-run fifth inning. Upton drew a one-out walk and stole second, putting himself in scoring position. Pena knocked him in with a single.
Maddon explained how Upton's speed can affect Pena's at-bats like this before Saturday's game: "You have the opposition thinking of two things: Do I need to throw a fastball to keep B.J. from running or throw a breaking ball and disregard B.J. running? I think it feeds into both players from that perspective."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.