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Rays' Upton hits first homer, still trails little brother Justin by four

ST. PETERSBURG — CF B.J. Upton has taken his share of ribbing the past few days, seemingly from everyone.

Teammates teased Upton, homerless in his first 11 games, about how his younger brother, Justin, 20, one-upped him with five home runs for the Diamondbacks. On Sunday, even fans got in on the fun.

"I walk on deck, a guy yelled it behind me, 'Your brother's got five,' " Upton said. "It's tough not to think about it."

Big brother got on the board in a big way Sunday, belting a three-run homer during the Rays' sixth-run fifth. It capped an eventful weekend series for Upton: a 6-for-11, five-RBI performance at the plate, to getting caught in two rundowns, and, on Sunday, coming oh-so-close to colliding with two teammates in chasing down fly balls in the ninth.

But to manager Joe Maddon, Upton's homer, on a 3-and-2 pitch, showed some good signs. And as for bragging rights with his brother, Upton said he expects a text message tonight.

"Hopefully," Upton said, "a couple more (homers) will come."

RELIEF, REDEMPTION: RHP Dan Wheeler, who gave up the winning homer in the ninth inning Saturday night, got a chance to erase that memory after inheriting a bases-loaded, no-out jam Sunday in the seventh. Relieving LHP J.P. Howell, Wheeler got Melvin Mora to pop out, and after walking in a run, he struck out Kevin Millar looking. LHP Trever Miller struck out Aubrey Huff to end the threat, with Wheeler glad he could help salvage Jeff Niemann's debut.

"I wouldn't say the confidence was shot, but I wanted to get back out there in a situation like that and do everything I can to save those runners," Wheeler said. "It's not an easy situation, but that's part of being in the bullpen."

CLOSE CALLS: Upton gave Rays fans a little scare chasing down fly balls in the ninth, bumping into SS Jason Bartlett then nearly colliding with LF Carl Crawford, who slid to avoid Upton in left-center.

On the bump with Bartlett, who was backpedaling to catch a popup in shallow center, Upton said the shortstop simply heard him call for it late. The same thing happened with Crawford, who said sometimes, guys underestimate his speed.

Said Crawford: "That was a scary moment for me."

GARZA PROGRESSES: After RHP Matt Garza (radial nerve irritation) played catch for the second straight day, Maddon said the 24-year-old is "coming along well," so much so that he could be back in the optimistic end of the Rays' initial two- to four-week prognosis. Maddon said Garza could throw off the side Tuesday, and he wouldn't rule out a rehab start.

"The doctors are pretty confident we got on top of it quickly enough so that he's going to serve the minimum amount of time," Maddon said.

MISCELLANY: Bartlett's throwing error in the first was just the second by a Rays infielder in the first 12 games. … LHP Kurt Birkins (left elbow) is scheduled to throw an inning in extended spring Tuesday.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Rays' Upton hits first homer, still trails little brother Justin by four 04/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 5:17pm]

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