Former Rays outfielder B.J. Upton turned 39 today, which makes this intrepid Rays reporter feel very old. But to celebrate his birthday, let’s take a look back on some of the biggest moment in his career with Tampa Bay.
Upton Didn’t Start In Center Field
Most of Upton’s career was spent in the outfield, so you’d be forgiven if you didn’t remember that he came up for a couple of months as a 19-year-old shortstop in 2004, just two year after being drafted second overall by the team. It definitely unusual seeing Upton weating the old green Devil Rays uniforms and sporting the number 35 on his back as he hit his first career home run off Kelvim Escobar of the Angels on August 17. Upton is still the only Rays player ever to hit a home run for the team before his 20th birthday.
His First Walk-off Foreshadowed Team’s Success
Upton spent all of 2005 back in the minors, but returned to the then-Devil Rays in 2006. His first full season in the majors would be 2007, when he would break out with a .300/.386/.508 slash line with 24 homers and 82 RBI. Included that season would be his first walk-off home run, coming off Toronto’s Jeremy Accardo on September 8. Rays fans were seeing glimpses of contention that would be in the team’s future.
Upton Has Rays First Breakout Postseason Performance
Rays fans remember the performance that Randy Arozarena put on the run to the American League pennant in 2020, but it’s important to point out that a dozen years earlier, Upton became the first Rays player to have a breakout performance in the postseason, as he hit seven home runs and drove in 16 to help power Tampa Bay to its first pennant in franchise history. That included a two-homer day against Gavin Floyd and the Chicago White Sox, helping the Rays move on the the American League Championship Series.
Upton Provides First Cycle In Rays Franchise History
2009 was a disappointing season for the Rays, as they were eliminated from defending their American League championship and suffered through a number of injuries that likely kept them from being better than their 84-78 record. But to start the final series of the year on October 2, Upton did what no other Rays hitter had ever done: hit for the cycle. He hit a bases-clearing triple off CC Sabathia in the bottom of the first, then followed up with a double off Sabathia in the third. Upton then hit a two-run homer off reliever Jonathan Albaladejo in the fourth, and his RBI single off David Robertson in the fifth would give him the milestone. For good measure, he’d add a fifth hit, another single, off Phil Hughes in the eighth.
Upton’s cycle would be the only one in franchise history until Evan Longoria joined him in August of 2017.
Upton Reaches 100 Career Homers
Just moments after his brother Justin Upton hit his 100th career home run on August 3, 2012, B.J. would do the same, going deep at Tropicana Field off future Ray Tommy Hunter off the D ring catwalk in center field. Upton would be the fifth Rays player all-time to reach 100 home runs, and his 118 in a Rays uniform still ranks fourth all-time.