ST. PETERSBURG — In the context of Monday's game, the play meant nothing. Over the remainder of the season, it could mean everything.
The Rays won again Monday, beating the Angels 6-4. They improved to 76-48, and with another win tonight (and they are planning on playing) could supplant the Angels as the best team in the majors. Plus they maintained their 41/2-game lead over the Red Sox.
Andy Sonnanstine won his 13th game, one shy of the team record. Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd hit two-run homers. The bullpen — once again — did a great job.
But B.J. Upton made another out on the bases that made for another issue, getting tagged out from behind by first baseman Mark Teixiera when coasting into second on what should have been an easy double.
It was a mistake that got Upton booed by the Tropicana Field crowd as he stood on the base with his head down. One that manager Joe Maddon has now put in the hands of the other players to resolve. And one that veteran Cliff Floyd said was an unnecessary distraction.
"This time of year, what we're trying to get to, that's the least thing you want to be talking about," Floyd said. "We're sitting here talking about why a guy didn't run out a ball — that's crazy. …
"The only reason I'm talking about it is that my heart's a little jacked up with that. It bothered me. We've got something really special here, the most amazing thing for this team in a long, long time and we don't need to be talking about this stuff."
Maddon said he didn't consider this a lack of hustle, as he did when he pulled Upton from Friday's game for not running out a ground ball and benched him Saturday, but an error of assumption.
"That's a mental mistake for me right there, that's not a lack of effort," he said, adding Upton will play today. "That was an assumption on his part, and that's part of his game we've got to get rid of."
Maddon knows Upton can be a huge part and a potential catalyst for the Rays as the season goes on, especially with Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria out, and made it clear he expects the other players to step in.
"There are moments on a baseball team and in a clubhouse when the other 24 people have to take care of some things," he said.
Upton declined — politely — to talk to the media before leaving the clubhouse. But Floyd — one of his closest friends on the team — said: "I'll tell you one thing about him tonight, he's hurting. He's hurting bad. … Hopefully, not hopefully, I really believe, you won't ever see that again."
Upton made, essentially, two mistakes after lacing a ball to leftfield in the fourth: he coasted out of the box as if he thought it was a home run, then when it hit the wall he didn't run any harder and was caught and tagged out by Teixeira.
It was, again, an incident that marred an otherwise impressive effort.
For a team that didn't get home from Texas until after 4 a.m., the Rays got off to a quick start, with a 5-1 lead after three innings. Hinske hit a two-run homer, his 19th, in the second. Floyd hit a two-out, two-run homer in the third, then Willy Aybar, who had three more hits, singled and came around to score when Angels rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero let Hinske's single go through his legs.
Sonnanstine did his job, too, holding the Angels to five hits and two walks. And Maddon used five relievers from there, with Dan Wheeler getting the final three outs.
Maddon said he doesn't want the Rays to do anything different because they're playing the Angels. "I saw us playing a typical Ray game tonight from what I've seen all year, and that's exactly what I'm shooting for," he said.
The Angels, though, were impressed.
"They have a lot of young guys, they play hard every night, they can taste the playoffs, too," starter Jon Garland said. "They're gunning for it. They want it bad."
Said Teixeira: "That's a good team — a flat-out good team."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]