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The real B.J. Upton may have finally arrived

ST. PETERSBURG

B.J. Upton homered again Saturday. He struck out three more times, too, but it was the home run that got everyone's attention.

"He's starting to click," Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza said.

"He's exciting to watch," Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist said.

Upton is beginning to look like the guy we’ve heard about all season, but had yet to show up.

Oh sure, Upton has played in 30 games. Batted leadoff in every one, too. But the B.J. Upton of last October, the one Zobrist calls a “superstar,” where was that guy?

Finding his swing. Finding his legs. Finding his game.

"It looked more like it's supposed to look," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Upton's game-winning home run Friday, a blast that landed in the left-field seats.

Maddon resisted the temptation to drop Upton in the order, though a sub-.200 batting average seemed to call for such a move. Sometimes managers are stubborn. Sometimes patience is a virtue.

The answer might be before us.

Upton is batting .368 over his past four games. He’s had two three-hit games.

Upton is hitting .303 over his past seven games. Six of his nine extra-base hits this season have come during his past 10 games.

"I've still got a long way to go," said Upton, who raised his average to .192.

So do the Rays. Saturday's 4-2 win against the Cleveland Indians improved their record to 18-20. Scott Kazmir looks lost, and it’s not a good sign when the manager doesn't want to pitch the closer against lefties.

But Upton seems to have found his swing, and that's a very good thing for the Rays.

A hot Upton batting leadoff in front of a hot Carl Crawford, who bats in front of Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena, can be, as Maddon said, a devastating duo.

Maybe we should give Upton a pass for his first month of the season. His spring training consisted of trips to the training room and at-bats against minor league pitchers. His real spring training at-bats came at the major league level against major league pitchers. Also, there was the shoulder surgery last November.

Upton looks good at the plate now. He's shifting his weight better. He's getting the bat head out in front of the ball. He's driving the ball to the opposite field.

It's huge getting him going," Zobrist said.

Upton's third hit Friday was the game-winner in the ninth. Before the at-bat, Troy Percival walked up to Upton in the dugout and said, "Let's play Rays baseball."

If Upton keeps hitting like this, if this is not a tease, the Rays just might be able to do that.

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