Upton answers boos with big blast in slugfest
PHOENIX -- In an all-out slugfest with the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, six Diamondbacks hit home runs, tying a franchise record for a single game. No one needed a homer more than embattled right fielder Justin Upton.
The day after going hitless in five at-bats and hearing boos from the Chase Field crowd, Upton launched a three-run home run 457 feet to left-center field in the fifth inning that broke a tie score.
"I've been grinding from Day 1, so to get a big hit for the team felt good," Upton said. "(It felt good) to pick those guys up like they pick me up."
Upton's home run highlighted the five-run inning that put the D-backs ahead for good in a game they would win 14-10 to take their fourth straight home series.
D-backs manger Kirk Gibson earlier in the day expressed concern at his All-Star outfielder being booed by the home faithful. He recalled being booed "bad" in 1983 with the Tigers in what was his third full major league season.
"It kind of brought me to my knees," Gibson said. "I kind of realized that I really had to change some things, the way I was doing things. … It worked me into a bad frame of mind."
Gibson didn't suggest Upton had to make any changes and wasn't sure how the fan negativity might affect Upton.
"First of all, it's not going to help him," Gibson said. "But at the same time, it introduces a new dimension to his growth as a player. He's got to power through it, remain determined."
Upton didn't deny hearing the boos Tuesday night, but said they didn't bother him. He even seemed to understand fans' frustration, saying, "I haven't given them much to cheer about."
"I've been booed before," Upton said. "I know how to handle it. It's happened a couple seasons when I've started out slow. That's a part of the game."
Upton's rough night in Tuesday's 12-9 loss included three strikeouts, the last of which brought a smattering of boos heard earlier in the night to a loud crescendo. It looked early on Wednesday like it could be another long day for him, as he started the day 0 for 2 with a strikeout, but then came his opportunity in the fifth.
On a 3-0 count, Upton took Seattle starter Jason Vargas deep with what was tied for the fourth-longest home run at Chase Field this season. In his next at-bat, Upton singled and came around to score on a Miguel Montero single before leaving with a cramp in his left calf, suffered while sliding into third base. Upton said he didn’t come out for the seventh inning for precautionary reasons and didn't expect the injury to linger.
The home run, Upton's first since May 23, gave him as many RBI in one at-bat as he had in his previous 10 games and nearly matched his previous RBI total (four) for the month of June. He had also not collected an extra base hit since June 9.
Gibson, who has stood firm behind Upton as his No. 3 hitter despite ongoing struggles, said Wednesday's home run could be a spark for Upton.
"That's why you give him (a green light) on the 3-0 count," Gibson said. "You're hoping for something like what happened that will give him that feeling, give him his confidence back.
"We need him to be that guy, and he's capable of being that guy. We know that he can turn it around. If he does, it would certainly help where we're headed."
Teammate Chris Young, Upton's closest friend in the clubhouse, also offered a defense of Upton following the game and said the boos are not an issue for him.
"When you are a professional athlete, you understand that things like that are going to happen," Young said. "Whether it is fair or not is not really for me to judge. Nonetheless, it happens from time to time. What you have to do is continue to be yourself and continue to play ball. He’s going to come back and he’s going to shine and he’s going to be fine."
Upton admitted Gibson has been a little more reluctant this year to offer a green light on 3-0 counts. In such situations this year he has gone 2 for 2 with seven walks. For his career with 3-0 counts, Upton is now 10 for 17 with five home runs.
While Upton's home run may have meant the most, it was not the most exciting of the day. That honor went to D-backs third baseman Ryan Roberts, who knocked a ball off the wall in right-center field and motored around the bases for an inside-the-park home run in the sixth inning.
"I was just trying to run hard until somebody told me to stop," Roberts said. "It was exhausting to say the least. Once I caught my breath after a couple innings it was special."
Second baseman Aaron Hill and left fielder Jason Kubel also homered in the first inning, while catcher Miguel Montero and shortstop John McDonald homered in the fourth inning. The D-backs had notched six home runs in a game twice previously, most recently on May 19, 2010.
"I've always felt this lineup could provide power and we showed that today," Upton said.
The Mariners also had two home runs in the game, from Franklin Gutierrez and Kyle Seager, who hit his second homer in as many nights.