tampabay.com

Mental mistake negates positives

A lapse by B.J. Upton, playing CF for first time, lets in winner.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 13, 2007


TORONTO - Joe Maddon sat back in his chair in the visiting manager's officer at Rogers Centre - his team in the middle of the kind of skid that sent past Rays teams, no matter how ambitious, to their annual home in the cellar of the AL East.

"We're going to look back on this one day and realize that there are growing pains when you get good, " Maddon said. "When you're going through the actual growing pains, it's a little more difficult to see the lesson that potentially can be learned."

The Rays' 5-4 loss Saturday afternoon was definitely difficult to digest. Tampa Bay fought back from an early deficit again, taking a 4-3 lead on Carl Crawford's two-run homer in the sixth, only to see the game slip away one inning later on a mental lapse.

Second baseman B.J. Upton made his first start in centerfield, and his inexperience was evident at a most crucial time.

With Vernon Wells on first and Lyle Overbay facing Rays reliever Brian Stokes with a full count and two outs, everyone knew Wells was going on the pitch. Overbay lined Stokes' delivery up the middle, and Upton fielded the ball with little urgency, expecting Wells to stop at third. When aggressive third-base coach Brian Butterfield sent Wells home, the Rays were ill-prepared to challenge him.

"That's just our luck right now, " Stokes said. "It was another tough loss for us."

With the loss, their sixth straight and seventh in their past eight, the Rays, who moved into second place May 3, regained sole possession of last place in East at 14-22. Only a win against a slumping Jays team hampered by injuries in the series finale today will keep Tampa Bay from coming home off back-to-back three-game sweeps.

"He's just got to unload that ball, " Maddon said. "It's got to get back to the infield sooner, and he knows that. The mistake was more mental than physical. That's the thing we're really trying to get beyond because our mental mistakes are hurting us the most. It happens to every team, but we have the tendency to make mental mistakes, and it's through lack of experience."

Upton, the team's top hitter and leader in all three Triple Crown categories, was frustrated.

"I don't play there much, " he said. "It was the first game out there all season and it showed. I've never seen that play from centerfield. First time and I'll know next time. ... I'm a little inexperienced out there, and things just didn't go my way."

Rays starter Edwin Jackson, who has been wildly inconsistent, pitched well, striking out a career-high nine and walking just two. Take away two third-inning homers - a solo shot by top prospect Adam Lind and a two-run shot by Frank Thomas - and Jackson allowed just one run.

Maddon said Jackson was "really learning to mix up his pitches very well. I think he's pitching now. That's the difference you're seeing in this young man."

The Rays trailed 3-1 when first baseman Carlos Pena homered to lead off the fifth. Crawford's two-run shot, his fifth, gave the Rays a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, where the Jays manufactured a run against Jackson on Royce Clayton's two-out single.

The outcome, however, came down to one play, but Maddon said he wouldn't allow Upton to get discouraged.

"We could have gotten hits in different situations, " he said. "We could have made pitches in situations. We could have made other plays in situations. ... It's a teachable moment, and we'll discuss it with him in more detail. This young man has made a lot of progress already this year, and I want nothing to infiltrate his confidence right now."