Upton regains power stroke to lead Rays to franchise's first ALCS
Every locker in the Tampa Bay Rays' home clubhouse at Tropicana Field has a nameplate above it that is engraved with the name and number of the locker's occupant. Every locker, that is, except one. Above center fielder
The soft-spoken Upton laughed the other day when asked to explain it. "I got the mohawk" -- Upton was the second Ray, after
One had to wonder, though, if the similarities between Upton and Bengals wideout
Upton's shoulder has been seriously limiting him since May, when he aggravated the injury, but that didn't become public knowledge until
Upton dislikes discussing his injury, which will require offseason surgery -- but his transformation into a slap-hitting, walk-drawing stolen base threat (he ranked fourth in the AL with 97 bases on balls and second with 44 stolen bases) suddenly seems like an accomplishment, instead of a regression. Still, for the first two and a half games of the Rays' four-game ALDS win over the White Sox, he wasn't accomplishing much of anything. He started the series 1-for-12, and drew not a single walk. His swing looked awful, consistently inside-out when it didn't need to be. He looked dejected on the field, and the question was not whether he'd come alive, but whether his shoulder might knock him out of the postseason altogether.
Then, in the top of the seventh inning of Game 3 -- which would prove to be the only game the Rays would lose in this series -- Upton, out of nowhere, crushed a 411-foot bomb to leftfield off White Sox starter
Upton's binge ended there, but each of his three remaining ALDS at-bats proved useful. He grounded out to third in the fifth, but allowed Iwamura to advance to second; Iwamura scored two pitches later when
Maddon noted that Upton seemed to have his old swing back. "He is starting to get that nice click in the bat," the manager said. "That nice bassy sound when he hits the ball." Even Maddon, though, couldn't have predicted what that nice, bassy sound would produce in Game 4.
Said veteran outfielder
Upton, for his part, remained reserved, even as
If they come or not in the ALCS, Upton's already accomplished something that his doppelganger on the Cincinnati Bengals has not: he's led his team to a playoff win.