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Slumping B.J. Upton, Dioner Navarro get key hits as Tampa Bay Rays beat Orioles

ST. PETERSBURG — Both Dioner Navarro and B.J. Upton entered Tuesday's game frustrated by hitting slumps.

But Navarro said manager Joe Maddon "gave me that extra push" a couple days earlier in a confidence-building meeting.

Upton admitted his struggles in his new leadoff spot weighed on him, but Maddon told him, "Keep swinging."

Maddon has stuck with Navarro and Upton, wanting to show patience and confidence.

And in Tuesday afternoon's 6-3 win over the Orioles, they both rewarded his faith.

Upton and Navarro came through with back-to-back two-out hits in the three-run, seventh-inning rally, lifting the Rays to a come-from-behind victory in front of 13,174 at Tropicana Field.

Upton's double off previously baffling Koji Uehara delivered the go-ahead run and snapped a careerlong 0-for-20 slump, lifting "definitely a little bit of weight off my shoulders."

"It's been a long time coming," Upton said. "Obviously the way we're playing right now is not up to anybody's standards. I think everyone in the clubhouse believes we can do better. I just feel like I haven't been contributing offensively, and to finally do something to bring this team up, it feels good."

With the Rays (12-16) having won four of six on the home-stand, Maddon said, "We're starting to look more like us." Tampa Bay is still 61/2 games back in the AL East, and Maddon admits "we've been humbled a bit."

He said clutch hits like Tuesday's could do a world of good for both Upton's and Navarro's confidence.

"There may be a little more impact because, to a certain extent, you feel like you've been letting the team down," Maddon said. "Everybody feels that way when you're not doing what you think you can do. To really step up in that moment, both of those guys, I'm sure they're feeling pretty good about themselves."

So is right-hander Matt Garza (3-2), who held the Orioles to three runs (on two homers) in eight innings.

Navarro, who caught Garza for just the second time this season, said, "I told myself, 'This was the biggest game of the season, to prove to myself, to prove to everybody that we can work on the same page.' "

Navarro did just that and came through with his bat in the seventh. Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura led off with singles, Iwamura's on a bunt, bringing up Navarro, who broke an 0-for-11 skid with a double the inning before. If Bartlett hadn't gotten picked off second, Navarro's single could have delivered the go-ahead run.

Instead, it set up Upton's huge hit. He fell behind 0-and-2 but fouled off a pitch before reaching out and pulling a Uehara splitter down the leftfield line for a double, a hit he said he hopes "can catapult me and carry me the rest of the season."

Upton battling in that at-bat was an example of why Maddon hasn't moved him from the top of the order despite his .157 average. And he said as Upton's and Navarro's confidence grows, "you'll see a more familiar player."

"I think it's a new beginning," Navarro said. "It's a new start."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Slumping B.J. Upton, Dioner Navarro get key hits as Tampa Bay Rays beat Orioles 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 11:32pm]
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