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Rays youths Upton, Longoria rewriting history

B.J. Upton, left, has a right to bask in the moment after he and Evan Longoria — bumping arms with Joe Maddon — both homered. They have combined for nine this postseason.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

B.J. Upton, left, has a right to bask in the moment after he and Evan Longoria — bumping arms with Joe Maddon — both homered. They have combined for nine this postseason.

BOSTON — They do love their history around here. The ballpark is old, the city is older and the memories stretch beyond birth certificates and generations.

So the past few days must have come as some surprise to Red Sox fans, for they are seeing things never before witnessed on postseason fields.

Say hello to B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, the power prodigies of October.

Never have teammates so young produced so many home runs in the postseason. Seven games into the playoffs, and they are hitting bombs at a rate that would make Gehrig and Ruth proud. Seven games into the playoffs, and they already have combined for more homers than Mantle and Maris hit in their first 23 together.

"I've really never been around this kind of young talent at this stage of their careers," Rays senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker said. "I've given up on trying to come up with the adjectives to describe these kids.

"They're just special players."

History is supposed to be tattered. It is supposed to be yellowed and worn. The makers of history do not often arrive with smooth, unlined faces and fresh, unspoiled personalities.

And yet history is having a hard time keeping up with these two guys.

Upton is 24 and has five home runs in his first 31 postseason at-bats. Longoria just turned 23 and has four home runs in his first 28 postseason at-bats.

This is not supposed to happen this way. Sure, there have been plenty of greater performances in the postseason. There have been hitters who have dominated in ways far more impressive.

But rarely at this age. And hardly in the same lineup.

"It's incredibly rare to have players that are that extraordinarily talented at such a young age playing together," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "And the scary part is both of them have room to grow and become even better.

"We obviously think a lot of both of them in terms of their makeup, but until you see someone do it in October, it's really just rhetoric."

For the longest time, we have talked about the lack of superstars on this team. How there are no contenders for AL MVP, and how production has come from every corner of the clubhouse.

All of that remains true today. This is still a team built around young pitchers and a variety of role players. But saying that does not mean the Tampa Bay roster lacks special talent.

Upton and Longoria have the ability to be among the very best players in the game. And, at times, they have been this season. The only problem is they are still young and are still learning the secrets of the big leagues.

So they do not have the regular-season numbers of some of the game's biggest stars. And they do not have the name recognition of players in bigger markets.

But there is not an owner or general manager who wouldn't consider the barter of his soul in exchange for having these two hitters locked up for at least the next four seasons.

"I thought about that today when they were introducing the lineups," Rays hitting coach Steve Henderson said. "You see our guys running onto the field, and they look so young, and you think, 'My God, what's the future here?'

"I mean, they're good but they're going to get better."

One of the wonderful things about Longoria and Upton is they know all of this. Not on some abstract level, or in some arrogant way. They simply realize the gifts they possess, and they are not afraid of the expectations.

In a way, that explains what they have accomplished in the past 12 days. David Ortiz suggested the Rays looked scared in the first game of the AL Championship Series, but it is hard to imagine Upton or Longoria ever being intimidated by the situation or their opponent.

"It doesn't really matter how old you are," Longoria said. "If you're able to do certain things as a baseball player, it shouldn't matter what stage you're on.

"Me and Beej are not scared. We just go out and have our fun, and the results are what they are. Thankfully we've had the success we've had lately."

Baseball has seen other phenoms arrive close together. Jim Rice and Fred Lynn were rookies in Boston in 1975. Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds hit Pittsburgh around the same time in the late '80s. Ken Griffey and Alex Rodriguez were both 20-something stars in Seattle in the 1990s.

Sometimes they stick together, sometimes they move in different directions. Sometimes they fulfill their promise, sometimes they are derailed by injuries.

So it is far too soon to predict the future for Longoria and Upton.

But today they are making a mess of history.

And, for now, that's enough.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Rays youths Upton, Longoria rewriting history 10/13/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 3:24pm]
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