The enigma of Justin Upton was in full display during his recent three-day return to Chase Field.
In the span of 72 hours, Upton gave those who wanted him out of Arizona, those who felt he never should have left and those who, like me, felt he should have commanded a better trade return, all reasons to believe they were right.
There was the mammoth Monday night, when Upton had four hits, three extra-base hits and unloaded one of those 440-foot moon shots just west of what used to be “Uptown” as the Atlanta Brave routed the Diamondbacks, 10-1. Those are the nights that get big publicity on ESPN, make Upton a fantasy baseball darling and make Arizona fans moan, “How in the name of Roy Hobbs did we let this guy go?”
It was a great night for Upton. It was impressive, and came with the spotlight on him. That rarely happened when he was a Diamondback, as rare a sight as when he ran out a first-inning grounder so hard that he nearly turned it into a fifth hit.
Then came Tuesday and Wednesday, when the Diamondbacks rallied to win the series and Upton looked a lot like the player that teased and frustrated Arizona fans.
The noticeable improvement was patience at the plate (four walks in the final two games along with a more general air of discipline). But he was otherwise 1-for-5 with two strikeouts and made a couple of plays in the outfield that, while not official errors, reminded you of your eye-roll whenever the whole “five-tool” debate resurfaced.
The Diamondbacks are among the best teams in the National League despite an anemic offense and bullpen struggles. They have caught up with the Braves who broke out of the gate 11-1, but are 11-17 since, a dip that dovetails with a slumping Upton, whose blast at Chase is his only homer in the last 15 games entering the weekend.
But facts are facts: Upton leads the National League in home runs and Martin Prado, the only present visible return for Upton, is hitting .235 and telling people not to judge him by what Upton is doing. The pitcher Arizona got in the deal, Randall Delgado, has an ERA of 9.09 in Reno, and the other three players are no sure bet to ever reach Chase Field.
So the conclusion reached in this space when the trade went down — right idea, wrong deal — still looks about right.
Have read and heard comments that the reason why basketball fans like Kevin Durant more than LeBron James is because Durant’s “handlers” help give him a better public relations face.
But after Durant and the Thunder were eliminated by Memphis in the Western Conference semifinals this week, I know why I like Durant, and why if there was an NBA expansion draft tomorrow with every player available he would be my first pick: He just gets it.
Durant signed a long-term deal in small-market Oklahoma City because he wants to build something himself. He wants to win a championship, but he wants it to be Oklahoma’s title. He doesn’t want to move to South Beach, surround himself with superstars and announce that he’s leaving town on an hour-long ESPN special. He will take the hits — James Harden traded for money reasons, Russell Westbrook going down injured in the playoffs — and come back again, hopefully better, and win a title where he is.
James and the Heat will win the title again. There isn’t a team in the league — even if the Bulls, Knicks, Lakers or Thunder had all their players healthy and ready — that would beat Miami in a seven-game series. We all had our fun while the “Big Three” worked out their kinks in Florida, but now they have the machine purring and the banners will begin to pile up.
I don’t know if Oklahoma City will ever find the right formula, the right finances to break up the Heat. But they have the right leader in place, and that’s not PR.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.