"We just feed off each other," Upton said after Tampa Bay's 4-2 victory over the Phillies on Thursday night.
Upton singled in his first two at-bats after going 0-for-4 and grounding into two double plays during a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia in Game 1. The center fielder also scored a run and made a nice ranging catch of Pedro Feliz's liner that ended a Phillies threat in the second inning.
"He's the backbone of this team right now," designated hitter Cliff Floyd said.
Upton struggled for much of the regular season, in part because of injuries. The 24-year-old also was benched twice for not hustling, but accepted responsibility and moved on.
Once the Rays hit the postseason, Upton turned up his game. He has a .296 average with seven homers and 16 RBIs in the playoffs. "He's got a lot of confidence and he's using it to his strength," Floyd said. "He's told himself, I'm going to put everything aside - the shoulder, the quad - and go out there and give myself an opportunity to help this team. I tip my hat to him because without him you don't know where this team would be."
Although the Ray were fourth in the AL in home runs, they were hardly the big thumpers who bashed their way through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Strong pitching, solid defense and timely hitting have been a winning formula all season - and helped them even the series against Philly.
James Shields set the tone in Game 2. The right-hander worked 5 2-3 scoreless innings after losing both of his starts in the AL championship series.
The Rays got a nice throw from right fielder Rocco Baldelli to double a runner off first in the fifth inning and built a 4-0 lead for Shields with Upton stepping up while the rest of Tampa Bay's big bats continued to struggle.
They scored twice in the first despite hitting only one ball out of the infield. Upton's single to right was misplayed by Jayson Werth, allowing Upton to go to second and Akinori Iwamura to take third with no outs.
The heart of the batting order - Upton, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria - went 0-for-12 in Game 1 when Tampa Bay was held to five hits by Cole Hamels and relievers Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge. Although Pena was 0-for-3 with a walk and Longoria finished 0-for-4 for the second straight night, both contributed to a quick start against Brett Myers with groundouts that put the Rays ahead 2-0 in the first inning.
Upton's second hit of the game made it 3-0, but Myers avoided further damage when Werth fielded the ball cleanly this time and cut down Baldelli at the plate. The Rays added another run when Floyd scored on Jason Bartlett's safety squeeze in the fourth.
"That's how we play," Floyd said. "It's good solid baseball."
The Rays were the best team in the majors at home this season, and haven't lost consecutive games at Tropicana Field since Sept. 2-3 against the Yankees. That was one of the reasons they were confident they would bounce back in Game 2.
Upton's run-scoring single in the second got him within three of the major league record for RBIs in a single postseason held by Boston's David Ortiz (2004), Cleveland's Sandy Alomar (1997) and Anaheim's Scott Spiezio (2002).
He is tied with Troy Glaus for the most homers by an AL player in a postseason, one short of the major league mark held by Barry Bonds (2002) and Carlos Beltran (2004).
"We came back and got a big win, obviously we put (Game 1) behind us," Upton said.
Floyd said no one should have doubted the Rays would bounce back. Not after they held off Boston to win the AL East and rebounded from losing Games 5 and 6 in the ALCS to eliminate the Red Sox in Game 7.
"It shouldn't be a surprise," Floyd said. "Shame on anybody who thinks we're a fluke."