ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- After a slow start, B.J. Upton is heating up as Tampa Bay's leadoff hitter.
The speedy centerfielder had two hits, stole a base and drove in three runs with a double that snapped an eighth-inning tie Friday night, helping the Rays beat the Florida Marlins 7-3 in the opener of their weekend series."It's just playing the game, playing the game the way it's supposed to be played," said Upton, whose hustle on the bases also led to him scoring on a wild pitch that was one of the keys to stopping the Marlins' five-game winning streak.Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford also drove in runs for the AL champions. J.P. Howell (3-2), the fifth Tampa Bay pitcher, worked 1 1/3 innings for the victory.Hanley Ramirez homered for the third time in four games for the Marlins, hitting a solo shot that made it 3-all in the seventh.The Rays loaded the bases against Renyel Pinto (2-1) and Brian Sanches in the eighth on a fielder's choice and two walks, the last an intentional pass to Dioner Navarro after Sanches fell behind 3-0 in the count.Upton doubled to the gap in right-center, and Crawford followed with an RBI single for a four-run cushion."I'm always looking for a fastball. He left it out over the plate, and I just told myself don't try to do too much with it," said Upton, who's batting .357 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 16 interleague games, compared to .207 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 51 games against AL opponents.The 24-year-old started slowly after beginning the season on the disabled list while recovering from shoulder surgery performed after the World Series. He's hitting .313 in his last 33 games after batting .177 in his first 34 after rejoining the lineup."I started with a pretty good slider, and then I tried to come in with a fastball and I left it up over the plate," Sanches said. "You can't do that against a club like this."Ramirez, who had grand slams in two of three games against Baltimore this week, has driven in 13 runs in his last four games for Florida.His first-inning RBI single gave starter Josh Johnson a quick lead, however the Marlins wasted opportunities to take control when they left the bases loaded in the second and stranded a runner at third the following inning.The Rays scored on Pena's RBI single in the first and Longoria's run-scoring single in the third.After Florida made it 2-2 on Ross Gload's RBI double in the fifth, Tampa Bay quickly regained the lead with help from Johnson, whose fifth-inning wild pitch allowed Upton to score from third base.Johnson allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings. He departed with the score 3-all after Ramirez homered with two outs in the seventh off James Shields, who yielded three runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings.Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett went 0 for 4, ending his career-best and franchise-record hitting streak at 19 games. He wound up scoring the go-ahead run, though, after reaching on a fielder's choice in the eighth."Overall, that eighth inning got away from us. We put guys on base and that can't happen," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You put guys on base, they're an athletic club that can steal bases and make things happen, you're asking for trouble."The so-called Citrus Series has never really caught on with fans and attracted a crowd of 20,972 to slightly more than half-full Tropicana Field. The Rays averaged 19,537 for a three-game series against Philadelphia this week, an especially disappointing number because it was a rematch of the teams that met in last year's World Series.
Longoria returned to Tampa Bay's lineup after sitting out Thursday with a sore left hamstring. ... The Rays are close to becoming the first team in major league history to have 100 steals and 100 homers before the All-Star break. They swiped three bases Friday night, giving them a baseball-best 114. They've hit 98 homers. ... Marlins INF-OF Alfredo Amezaga (left knee) could resume batting practice this weekend. ... Florida RHP Anibal Sanchez (right shoulder) might start light bullpen sessions next week.