Rays Number #2 Moment of 2009: ” B J Upton takes a Cycle Ride”
They call it one of the hardest and most exciting feats in baseball. It takes concentration and a will of steel to perform such a feat in the game of baseball. And the pure fact that it took over 1,939 Tampa Bay Rays game before we saw the first of its kind, just adds to the mystery and the awe of the spectacle. For on that night of October 2, 2009 in Tropicana Field, B J Upton put his signature on the game forever. But he was not the first of the Rays to face this obstacle in 2009, but he was the first in team history to finally break through and complete the first cycle in Rays history.
It was really only natural for this moment of triumph by Upton to be picked somewhere within the “Top 5 Rays Moments of 2009″. Some people might bicker and argue it should be popped somewhere lower on the list, but to me, this is the perfect spot for this moment. Considering that Upton spent the most part of 2009 fighting to prove he is more than just a good centerfielder, but to prove his plate discipline and bat had matured over the last season. And team mates like Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria also had chances this season to add their names to this list, but they fell short.
And the “cycle” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that time is the element Upton needed this season to correct and get back into the saddle at the plate. That maybe his off season shoulder surgery left pains and discomfort for most of the year before he thrust his average skyward in July. For that month he became the American League Player of the Month after posting a .324 average with 5 HR 22 RBI and 14 stolen bases.
Anyone who knows me knows I would fight to the death over this guy’s reputation. I have heard the passion and the will to succeed in his voice this season, and in all of this, most fans just seem to see his faults. Upton went 5 for 5 on the day, to tie the Rays record for most hits in a game with 4 other players, but it was only the second time the act has been reached at Tropicana Field, and the first since ex-RayTomas Perez did it on July 29, 2006 against this same Yankees squad.
And another amazing part of the feat that people tend to forget,he started his quest for the cycle in the first inning of the game batting out of the seventh slot in the Rays order. And he got the hardest hitting element of the cycle out of the way during that first appearance….the Triple. I think it is unfortunately that Upton was now finding his rhythm at the plate in the team’s 160th game.
And some of the Yankees faithful might look at that first hit, that went underneath sprawling Yankee rightfielder Nick Swisher as he dove for the ball heading into the right-centerfield gap as a gift, and nothing more. But it was the start of a magical trip that all in attendance got to see, feel and relish for the first time in Rays history. And by getting the double in his second at bat, Upton was putting his own stamp on this game, and making the feat easier for himself.
And let’s not forget, the Yankees did have a stellar pitcher on the mound in this game trying to get his 20th win of the season. C C Sabathia was not lobbing the ball up to the plate, but Upton did make solid and great contact on got two of his hits off Sabathia before he left in the bottom of the fourth inning. The other three hits came off the Yankee Bullpen..
Upton is considered the first American League player to get his cycle before the 5th inning of a game since 1954. During that same period, the National League had three players complete the feat by the 5th inning. And he had completed the task the quickest since the Rockies Mike Lansing did it on June 8,2000 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
What was also so amazing, before that Friday night game, Upton had only 1 HR in his last 31 games, and 2 extra base hits (both doubles) in his last 14 games. Another wild fact is that it was the eighth cycle this season in Major League Baseball, tying the previous record set in 1993. And 6 of the 8 cycles this season have been set in the American League.
But there is another wild statistic that might have missed the Rays fans and the media about Upton. During the month of October, Upton has hit .301 (28 for 93) with 13 extra base hits, 8 HR, 23 runs scored, and 23 RBI. Those statistics cover over 24 career games, including the playoffs. So it might not so far fetched that at this time in the season he also collected 6 RBIs on the same day as his “cycle”,but it is a pity we could not have had that offensive power the entire season. I guess it will be one of those “What If” situations.
Hopefully this offensive explosion gave Upton the confidence going into the off season to sweat a bit harder during his off season workouts and come into the 2010 Spring Training on mission. Sometimes it take a moment like this for a player to escalate to that higher level in their career. Lets hope that by Upton producing the first cycle in Rays history it also pedals him towards what we all know he can be……….an elite member of that speedy Rays outfield both in the field and at the plate.
Don’t forget, I have links to all of my Rays top moments of the season over in the sidebar to the right of the blog. Just click on the “moment” link and it will bring up an MLB.com webpage and report on the event. Tomorrow I should be wrapping up my Top 5 Rays moments of 2009, and next week will venture into the Top 5 worst adventures during the 2009 season. Until then, I hope you come back and check out the Number #1 moment tomorrow and also celebrate an awesome season by a team that proves it doesn’t take millions to succeed in baseball.