Senior Baseball Columnist

The Hamilton Show keeps getting to unseen levels


Josh Hamilton leads the majors with 17 home runs. (US Presswire)  
Josh Hamilton leads the majors with 17 home runs. (US Presswire)  

ARLINGTON, Texas -- They came after his equipment in Baltimore when he clubbed those four home runs in one game. Josh Hamilton turned over his cap and his jersey. Didn't even know for sure who the people were, or where his uniform was going. Hall of Fame, he assumed.

But he didn't give them his bat.

"I'm actually still using the bat I hit those balls with," Hamilton said Friday before the Rangers made life even more miserable for the Angels, 10-3.

For how much longer?

"Till it breaks, man," he said with a wry smile.

The Angels -- or Royals, or whomever is within radar on the Rangers' schedule -- had better hope it breaks soon. Because what's going on right now is the stuff of legend. Or comic books. Or both.

Hamilton smashed two more home runs following a 1:56 rain delay, giving him 17 for the season, seven over his past four games and eight over his past five games.

"He's the most gifted player I've ever seen," said Michael Young, who played alongside Alex Rodriguez earlier in his career. "He's capable of making people scratch their heads.

"That's what he's been doing this last week."

Only twice before in more than 100 years of major-league history has a player walloped 17 homers in his team's first 33 games, according to Cy Williams, with the Phillies in 1923, and Frank Howard, with the Senators in 1968.

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On what was going to be one of the juiciest nights of the season, C.J. Wilson's return to the place that jilted him to face Yu Darvish, the man whom the Rangers jilted him for, Hamilton did what he's done all week.

He hogged the show.

And it wasn't easy to do. Not with a sellout crowd of 48,201 -- the first of three expected this weekend, and a club-record seventh in a row -- voraciously booing Wilson. And not with Darvish shaking off the rain as if it was just, ahem, Albert Pujols.

The rain -- a howling, pounding, torrential deluge -- came five batters into the bottom of the first. Wilson had already surrendered one run and was tightrope-walking with the bases loaded and one out when it did.

Nearly two hours later, Wilson was done for the night.

Darvish walked between the rain, working another 4 1/3 mostly shutdown innings, taking the Rangers into the sixth with a 9-3 lead.

"I'm proud of him, coming back out there," Hamilton said. "That says a lot to his teammates about him."

The Rangers kept him warm, had him throw every 15 minutes during the rain delay to stay loose, consulted with the trainer and massage guy ... and decided him to turn him loose again.

For a team that arrived home sometime after 2 a.m. Friday after a doubleheader in Baltimore on Thursday, the determination of Darvish -- who flew home earlier in the day, ahead of the team -- was like an umbrella in the rain.

"I liked his guts," manager Ron Washington said. "I liked the fact that he knew we got in late last night, and he got in here early today and he was the freshest guy on the field."

"To come back after a long delay like that," Young said, "that shows us what he's made of."

Rain or shine, thunder or lightning, the Rangers make the right decisions. In the dugout, on the field and upstairs. That's why they've played in the past two World Series, and it's why they own baseball's best record today.

Was it the right move to dump Wilson and invest some $107 million in Darvish?

You bet, given how often Wilson came up small in the postseason and given what we've seen of Darvish so far.

And do you know what? However the Hamilton contract saga plays out -- he's a free agent this winter -- the Rangers will play that one well and get it right, too.

No organization is smarter. No organization makes better use of its resources. From club president Nolan Ryan to whip-smart GM Jon Daniels and his staff to manager Ron Washington, they do things right.

The Rangers opened the first showdown series of the season with the Angels as baseball's best team. You can judge that simply by watching them. Or you can go to the numbers: Their 22-11 record is the best in the majors, just the fourth time in Rangers' history they've been in this position as late as May 11. Two of those -- 2010 and now -- are under current management.

"We've got a pretty good front office," said catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli, the former Angel who wanted to scratch Wilson for a home run more than ever after the pitcher Tweeted Napoli's cell phone number this spring. "They believe in what they're doing, and it shows.

"They put a great team on the field."

Compare and contrast.

Darvish and Wilson.

Hamilton and Pujols.

There is no comparison. Not right now. Not as we sit here today, with the Rangers crushing the Angels and threatening to run away and hide in the AL West. They now lead the Angels by eight games. Mike Scioscia's club is playing for an AL wild-card spot, already.

Or do you believe the Angels can out-play the Rangers by nine full games over the next four-and-a-half months?

For one thing, Hamilton still has his bat, and it's in one piece. He has more homers this week than Pujols has had in months. Pujols' batting average shriveled to .192 by night's end. Oakland's Brandon Inge has more RBI in nine games with Oakland (17) than Pujols does in 32 games with the Angels (11).

And speaking of the A's, by night's end, Oakland starter Brandon McCarthy Tweeted, "Siri, how do you get Josh Hamilton out?"

"He's locked in right now," Scioscia said of Hamilton. "The mistakes that have been made to him from what we've seen scouting him the last week, he hasn’t missed them.

"You have to make good pitches to him. And even then, he's hitting some good pitches."

Said Young: "Every time he swings, we're getting runs. I'm enjoying every bit of it."

And will it be a problem if rivals stop pitching to Hamilton and start walking him?

"Absolutely not," Young said. "We've got depth up and down our lineup. If they want to give us free baserunners, we'll take every one of them."

Facing both Hamilton and the Rangers, there's only one thing to do right now.


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