ST. PETERSBURG — B.J. Upton stepped into another controversy on Tuesday, though this one wasn't his call.
And after Upton was called out on a controversial umpiring decision that manager Joe Maddon protested vociferously enough to get ejected, then later called "unconscionable" and "fabricated," the Rays responded and rallied for a rousing 4-2 victory over the Angels.
"We fed off that," Cliff Floyd said. "You could just tell the guys in the dugout were just a little ticked off, and we wanted to win that. We wanted to show that wasn't going to stop us from winning this game."
They did in their typical thrilling style, scoring three in the eighth on just one hit, a two-run single by Willy Aybar that made all the difference.
"An unbelievable game," Carlos Pena said. "That was awesome. That win felt so good."
As if that weren't enough, the Rays — on Aug. 20 — now share the best record in the majors (77-48) with the Cubs, surpassing the Angels to control every bit of their own destiny, including homefield advantage throughout the entire postseason.
"It's something special," Pena said. "We don't ever stop and think about it too much. We don't. But don't you think it's nice to at least hear it? And say, 'Hey guys, great job.' That's what happens when you play together. So let's make sure we stay together."
The buildup was pretty good, too. The Angels' Ervin Santana took a no-hitter into the sixth that it looked as if he'd get. The Rays played spectacular defense, with a dazzling double play by Jason Bartlett, a leaping catch at the rightfield wall by Gabe Gross and a laser throw by Upton to the plate. And James Shields did his usual bulldog thing to keep it close, going eight solid innings.
Down 2-0, the Rays got one run on the controversial play involving Upton, who began the afternoon with a crowd at his locker apologizing for his "mental lapse" in Monday's game and ended it with another crowd trying to explain this play.
With runners on first and third, Upton grounded a ball between the mound and first base. He was called safe by Jerry Meals when he beat first baseman Mark Teixeira's errant toss to Santana, who was covering. But Upton took a slight step to his right then to his left, almost more like a wiggle, but it was enough for Meals. Crew chief Gary Darling told a pool reporter Upton "made an attempt to run to second," then added: "I've called guys out for less."
Maddon was uncharacteristically incensed, and it showed on the field and in his office, when he said, among other things, "It may be the worst call I've ever seen" and expects to get fined for it.
He added: "It's in the crucial part of the game. You have a pennant in the balance. To make that call at that point, a fabricated call for me, cannot happen.''
Upton sounded as if he weren't sure what to think, but he knew he didn't make any move toward second: "Not at all.''
The Rays rallied just in time, showing both patience and urgency with Angels closer Frankie Rodriguez looming.
They got in position when Gross walked, Bartlett bunted and was safe on an errant throw and Akinori Iwamura walked.
After Upton — with the crowd chanting his name — struck out, Pena worked a full-count walk to force in the tying run. "His at-bat was spectacular," Maddon said.
Floyd struck out, then Aybar — playing superbly in place of injured Evan Longoria, and showing off for younger brother Erick, the Angels shortstop — laced a single to left.
"I was happy to be in that situation," he said, with coach Bobby Ramos interpreting, "to come up with the bases loaded and two out, and be the guy."
He wasn't the only guy.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]