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J-Upton delivers big message to D-backs

Let's be honest here, Justin Upton's first game back in Arizona wasn't exactly Alex Rodriguez heading back to Texas or Roger Clemens returning to Fenway Park. When he stepped up in the top of the first inning on Monday, it was mostly a milquetoast reaction from the scattered crowd at Chase Field: Some boos, some cheers, just enough of an uprising to elicit a small smile from Upton as he walked up to the plate.

Which wasn't really much of a surprise. Upton didn't demand a trade. He didn't call Phoenix a football city. The front office seemed to have more issues with Upton than the fans did, so there wasn't really much reason to rain boos upon him.

Upton had the right approach before the game, telling the media, "All this leading up to it is a little bit more than what the game will be. It's not Game 7 of the World Series and there's going to be a lot of games that come after this one, so I take it in stride and play three games on the road and get back home."

Of course, maybe that's why the Diamondbacks traded him in the first place. Where's the fire in that quote? Where's the spitting up blood in revenge? Just another game? Tell that to Kirk Gibson.

So maybe Upton sounded a little nonchalant before the game. I like that mindset: Don't make any one game too big. Baseball isn't a game played on emotion; you can't go up and down all season long or you'll be burned out by July. That doesn't mean emotion isn't part of the game or that effort isn't important; it means success resides in the consistency of effort, the repetition of doing the same things day after day.

Not that it isn't sweet to step up at certain times. As Nolan Ryan once said, "One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something."

Upton didn't have to prove anything to the Diamondbacks on Monday. Still, when he belted a 2-0 changeup from Wade Miley over the center-field wall in the sixth inning -- well beyond the high center-field wall -- you know it felt good. He chomped hard on his gum as he quickly rounded the bases, no doubt suppressing a smile as he crossed home plate and received the celebratory hand slap from brother B.J., who scored on the home run.

His teammates, however, happily greeted him upon his return to the dugout, one of many big moments for the Braves in a 10-1 victory.

It was Upton's major league-leading 13th home run, but first since April 27. In the 14 games since then he had hit .205 with 16 strikeouts, drawing 12 walks as opponents started giving him less to hit after his hot start. It was also just his second that didn't come with the bases empty. If there's one thing to nitpick about Upton's season so far it's that he's hasn't hit as well with men on base -- .184 in 49 at-bats, .167 with runners in scoring position -- but that's small sample size data and nothing to draw early conclusions from yet.

The home run will only fuel the widespread belief that the Braves swindled the D-backs in their big offseason trade, especially since Martin Prado has struggled so far for Arizona, hitting .233/285/.346, and pitcher Randall Delgado has a 9.09 ERA in Triple-A.

While the trade looks bad right now for the D-backs, it's worth noting they're still playing well with a 21-18 record, just 1.5 games worse than Atlanta's. And that record has been accomplished even though second baseman Aaron Hill has played just 10 games, Opening Day cleanup hitter Miguel Montero is hitting under .200, Jason Kubel has missed half the season, Adam Eaton has missed the entire season, Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy have combined for one win in 16 starts, and closer J.J. Putz struggled before landing on the DL.

In other words, a lot has gone wrong for Arizona and they're hanging in there. One of the major offseason goals for Arizona GM Kevin Towers was to improve the team's depth and that depth has allowed them to overcome the injuries and slow starts.

So let's not grade the Upton deal just yet; if the D-backs end up winning the NL West -- which they're absolutely capable of doing -- maybe both organizations end up happy with their 2012-13 offseason. It's too early to get all emotional about things.