ST. PETERSBURG — CF B.J. Upton's wild Tuesday ended with him explaining his role in a controversial play in the sixth.
But the day began with Upton apologizing for a "mental lapse" on the basepaths the night before, saying the last thing he wants is to become a "distraction."
Upton said he understood the criticism stemming from Monday's play. He hit a line drive off the leftfield wall but, while coasting into second, was tagged out from behind by Angels 1B Mark Teixeira on what should have been an easy double.
"There's no excuse for it," Upton said. "It can't happen, especially in the middle of a pennant race. Every run matters, every out matters. So I want to apologize for it. It's just something that can't happen."
Upton had become the center of controversy for the third time in two weeks over a perceived lack of hustle, but he said such a reputation is "not me."
"I feel like I go out and play hard every day. I want to win as much as anybody in this room," he said. "Once again, things like that can't happen. It just so happens they're magnified a little bit more now than they have been in the past. It's something I've got to deal with and not let it happen again."
One day after getting booed by the Tropicana Field crowd, Upton received a standing ovation in the second when he charged a Juan Rivera single and threw out Torii Hunter at home. Upton acknowledged the fans' spirited response but downplayed the play, saying it was something he was "supposed" to do.
His teammates, however, called it extraordinary.
"I don't know that I've ever seen somebody cut the distance down as much and then make as good a throw as he did for the total package of that play," RF Gabe Gross said. "He just threw an absolute bullet. "
Manager Joe Maddon benched Upton on Aug. 6 for not running hard to first the previous game and sat him again Saturday for the same reason. But Maddon was quick to come to Upton's defense Tuesday, arguing profusely with umpires over what he perceived as an unfair call.
"Things haven't really been the best lately, the past three days," Upton said. "He went out there and had my back; you gotta love it. I'm glad he did; it showed me a lot."
STRONG SHIELDS: To Maddon, what enabled the Rays to come back was another strong start by RHP James Shields, who gave up two runs in eight innings. Shields said he didn't have his best stuff but tried to "hang in there" with Ervin Santana, who Maddon said had "no-hit stuff." The Rays are 10-2 in Shields' past 12 starts.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: The defense backed Shields with back-to-back big plays in the first. First, SS Jason Bartlett raced back and jumped to catch a soft liner by Erick Aybar before doubling off Chone Figgins at first. Then, Gross made a spectacular catch, leaping to the top of the wall to rob Teixeira of extra bases. "I thought it was going to be a home run," Gross said. "I didn't really think that I would be able to catch it. But, fortunately, I barely got high enough."
HEAVY HEART: John Challis, an 18-year-old from the Pittsburgh area who inspired the Rays in a visit to PNC Park earlier this year, died from liver and lung cancer Tuesday afternoon.
MISCELLANY: Shields is 8-1 at home with a 2.21 ERA, best in the American League. … The Rays have 35 come-from-behind wins and still haven't lost a series since the All-Star break (9-0-1).
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.