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Maddon says Upton doesn't 'hide' from big moments
Posted 9/10/2012 1:38 AM ET
(USA) Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon says outfielder B.J. Upton relishes this time of year, when the games mean more, the pressure's on and the spotlight becomes brighter.

The rest of Maddon's team seems to have taken to September baseball as well.

While the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles were battling to a standstill in their big weekend series at Camden Yards, the Rays continued to make their move, and against pretty fair competition as well.

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With Sunday's 6-0 manhandling of the Texas Rangers, behind Upton's three home runs and James Shields' eighth career shutout, Tampa Bay closed out a 4-2 homestand and claimed the season series against the two-time defending American League champs.

A year after going 17-10 in September and earning a playoff spot on the last day of the season, the Rays improved to 6-2 this month and remained within two games of the division lead.

"They beat us in the playoffs the last two years, and to win this series against them and take the season series (5-4) is a big boost for our confidence," Upton said of the Rangers.

The timing couldn't be better, considering the Rays open a three-game series Tuesday in Baltimore, then play three games at Yankee Stadium.

They'll be bringing not only the game's top pitching staff, boasting a 3.22 ERA, but a hot one as well. Tampa Bay registered a 2.21 ERA in the homestand against the Yankees and Rangers — the two highest-scoring teams in the majors — holding Texas to five runs over the weekend.

"As far as I'm concerned, that's the best-hitting lineup in the big leagues one through nine," said Shields, who yielded two singles.

He got more than enough support from Upton, who belted solo shots in the first, fourth and sixth innings. Upton, who grounded out in the eighth, has hit 14 of his team-leading 21 homers after the All-Star break. Upton also has a knack for elevating his game down the stretch. He's eligible for free agency after this season.

"He does not hide from the big moment. He likes it," Maddon said. "I really expect and believe he will play well the rest of the season."

Posted 9/10/2012 1:38 AM ET
B.J. Upton hit three solo home runs in the Rays' 6-0 win over the Rangers on Sunday.
By Phelan M. Ebenhack, AP
B.J. Upton hit three solo home runs in the Rays' 6-0 win over the Rangers on Sunday.

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