Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton got booed last night in his home park. That cant feel good. After being benched twice in the last few weeks by manager Joe Maddon for lack of hustle, Upton made a baserunning error that looked really, really bad:
He hit a sharp shot to right, then hung around the batters box admiring the flight of the ball, thinking it was a homerun. Then he ambled down the first base line when he realized it would stay in the park. An easy double. He jogged around first and coasted toward second base. The Angels first baseman followed behind him, took the throw from the outfield and tagged Upton just before he touched second.
Upton looked shocked. Hed been tricked. Worse, it was not a good time to appear lazy on the baseball diamond. He hung his head. All this scrutiny, he had to be thinking, I just dont need this.
Thing is, I dont see Upton as lazy. At least not in this case. 99 times out of a hundred, that hit turns into an easy double. The first baseman doesnt shadow you down the line and tag you.
It was a baserunning mistake, taking a game situation too much for granted. Upton can fix this easily by never wavering from a few simple rules. Never stand in the batters box watching the flight of the ball and never trot out of the batters box. Do this without exception: As soon as you hit the ball, haul ass as fast as you can. If it goes out of the park, then break into your homerun trot.
Upton ran down a ball and made a great catch in centerfield a couple of innings later. He was hustling and not just because hed screwed up on the basepaths earlier.
Further compounding Uptons perception problems is that hes a cerebral player, stone-faced, taciturn, not fiery. He runs with a natural lope, a long-strider. That can make him look as if hes not working hard. Yet Upton leads the team in stolen bases (with 36), which has long been Carl Crawfords domain.
Upton may hear some more boos tonight at the Trop (theyre expecting to play the game despite the storm), and he absolutely must shut them out, or at least recognize them for what they are: temporary. One thing the ham n eggers in the stands wont stand for is lack of effort, not when these players are raking in all that dough.
B.J. should not dwell on the embarrassment, or feel too beleaguered. Maddon, correctly, did not punish Upton or criticize him too strongly; he characterized his centerfielders lapse last night as a mental mistake.
Rays teammates need to be supportive of Upton. At this point in the pennant race (its nice to write the words pennant race in conjunction with the Rays), the team cant afford for B.J to go into full brood mode. I dont know the man, but I get the sense that he could be susceptible to that kind of behavior.
Upton should see the last couple weeks as a learning opportunity. You dont have to be a baseball expert Im certainly not to know those simple rules of baserunning: hit the ball, always haul ass.
Note: The Rays have the second best record in the Major League Baseball (tied with the Chicago Cubs at 76-48, a half-game behind the Angels, 76-47) and do not have a single player hitting over .300. Dionner Navarro leads at .294.