A leader emerges in Tampa

Updated: June 28, 2010, 12:32 PM ET
By Buster Olney

One of the questions asked a lot about the Rays by rival talent evaluators is this: On a team of so many young players, who is their leader? Who is the guy who will step up and say something when it needs to be said?

They don't appear to have a lot of candidates.

Rightly or wrongly, Carlos Pena is perceived as being a nice guy who might not have enough edge; Carl Crawford is generally not someone who wants to stick his nose into other people's business (although he has from time to time, when necessary); and Evan Longoria, for all of his early success, is just 26 months into his major league career.

But Longoria apparently had had enough Sunday, after B.J. Upton loped casually after a ball hit into the gap, at a time when the Rays have been leaking and struggling to score runs. Upton is a repeat offender: Time and again, he has been chastised or benched by Joe Maddon for a lack of hustle.

When Longoria returned to the dugout at the end of the half inning, he said something to Upton, who reacted angrily, pointing a finger -- and then Longoria stepped forward, nose-to-nose, and said something else.

Afterward, Longoria and Upton downplayed the incident, although Maddon left his options open about rendering more discipline. "It goes no further than today," Longoria said.

Yes, it does, in the big picture.

The incident brought to mind another confrontation involving a rising star who, like Longoria, was 24 years old. Late in the 1998 season, the Yankees were playing at Baltimore. New York had already wrapped up the division title, and Joe Torre had taken to resting his regulars in the late innings in preparation for the playoffs. David Wells was pitching against the Orioles, and in the sixth inning, Torre replaced left fielder Tim Raines and center fielder Bernie Williams with Ricky Ledee and Chad Curtis, respectively.