Senior Baseball Columnist

Rangers separating themselves from rest of baseball


Josh Hamilton caps a historic week with nine homers and 15 RBI over six games. (US Presswire)  
Josh Hamilton caps a historic week with nine homers and 15 RBI over six games. (US Presswire)  

ARLINGTON, Tex. -- The box was waiting for baseball's best team upon its arrival home Friday afternoon. Inside? You would have thought it contained some of the greatest treasures ever offered.

Gold, maybe. Keys to the Fountain of Youth. Cold beer at a reasonable price.

Instead, as third baseman Adrian Beltre cracked it open and dug into a pile of T-shirts, the Rangers eagerly gathered around and laughed until they were crying. You should have seen Michael Young howling as they passed out the new threads.

The numbers on the backs corresponded to jersey numbers. But the names ... above David Murphy's No. 7 was the gem, "Horseface." Mike Napoli's read "Porterhouse." Yorvit Torrealba was "Chikfila." Mike Adams was "El Gutie" ("They say I look like Franklin Gutiuerrez, of Seattle," Adams said) and closer Joe Nathan was "Jonathan" (get it? The Rangers call him Jonathan because they think it's funny to put his first and last names together).

"That's one of the greatest things here, we have a lot of fun," Nathan said. "And nobody's excluded from being a part of the fun and games. Everybody's involved, on some level.

"I always say every team has talent. But there has to be something that separates teams from one another, and to not have everybody walking on eggshells ... it's a lot of fun."

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The Rangers are baseball's best team not because they laugh easy and tease well, let's be honest.

They are baseball's best team because Josh Hamilton is channeling some otherworldly Babe Ruth/Hack Wilson hybrid. Because Yu Darvish can blow hitters away at 95 m.p.h. or pull them out of their spikes at 70. Because they develop young pitchers (Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison) and because their lineup is stacked.

"It's the full package," Adams said. "You get everything you'd ever want from a baseball team with these guys."

Someone asked manager Ron Washington on Sunday whether he thinks Hamilton will start getting the Barry Bonds treatment with intentional walks.

"Barry Bonds had established himself to get to that point," Washington said. "Josh Hamilton is still establishing himself.

"When you tried to walk Barry, Barry would let you throw it out there. You try and walk Hamilton and throw it out there, if he sees it, he's hacking at it."

Hamilton is hacking, and rivals are ducking.

In one of the most productive weeks in baseball history, Hamilton smashed nine home runs and produced 15 RBI over the six games into Sunday, becoming only the third player ever to reach those minimum levels in a six-game span, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Hamilton hit three homers in the first two games against the Angels over the weekend. Then they recklessly pitched to him Sunday night with first base open in the fourth, and he answered by cracking a two-run double to help break the game open against Jered Weaver in a 13-6 drudging.

"And if they decided not to pitch to him," Washington continued, "I like to see Adrian Beltre up there. In any situation. So don't pitch to him, and pitch to Beltre. Or don't pitch to Beltre, and pitch to Michael. Or don't pitch to Michael and pitch to Nelson Cruz. I don't care.

Every one of those guys is capable of hurting you. Maybe they won't. Maybe they will."

Cruz? He smashed a grand slam against Weaver during Texas' five-run third inning.

Yes, it's a lot easier to have fun when you have weapons like these.

And it's a whole lot easier to stay loose with Hamilton wrapping himself in history seemingly every night.

He is one of only 16 men to hit four home runs in one game, and the 18 total bases last Tuesday night in Baltimore set an American League record.

The night immediately set off a flurry of speculation that the Rangers would re-open contract talks with Hamilton, who is eligible for free agency this winter. As if Texas needed some sort of tangible proof of what Hamilton is capable of doing.

The Rangers know. That night changed nothing in their approach to re-signing him. They're balancing the same things they've weighed all along: His epic on-field performances measured against the fact that he is a recovering drug addict with a couple of one-night drinking benders, the most recent in January.

And he plays hard and gets hurt: He's missed 143 games over the past three seasons, and he was too banged up last October to make an impact as the Rangers lost a second consecutive World Series.

"Nobody has ever questioned Josh's ability," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Sunday. "You're not going to predict something like [the four-homer game], but you wouldn't doubt it's anything he's capable of.

"One thing has nothing to do with the other."

Club president Nolan Ryan told KTCK-AM 1310 radio this month that he expects the Rangers and Hamilton to be "talking at the end of November, December." Sources say ongoing dialog is minimal.

Meantime, Hamilton continues raking and the Rangers continue winning. Their 23-12 start matches the club record for best start through 35 games. They own the best record in the AL, and they are second to the Dodgers (23-11) in the majors.

They hosted their club-record ninth consecutive sellout Sunday against the Angels, and 11th of the season, which matches last year's total. Their games are events now, replete with tailgating and an electric atmosphere in a ballpark colored with red and blue Rangers T-shirts and caps as far as the eye can see.

This may be the greatest achievement of Hamilton, Young, Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Co. They've actually taken attention from the Cowboys.

"It's awesome," Daniels says. "It's literally been like a Baseball Renaissance. The whole Metroplex.

"That's probably what we're most proud of. It's still a football town and probably always will be. But it's a discussion now."

The one pause in all of the exuberance this weekend around here is that, as Daniels notes, as hot as Hamilton has been over the past 10 days into Sunday, the Rangers still were only 5-5 in those games.

"Which points out how true it is that it's a team sport," the GM says.

There are no weaknesses in this Rangers team. Lineup, rotation, bullpen, bench, it's all rock solid. Texas' two biggest concerns entering the season were preserving the health of its everyday players and the continued development of its young starters.

So far, aces on both counts. The Rangers are the only team in baseball with its 25-man opening day roster still untouched. There have been zero moves involving the disabled list at the major-league level. And Feliz and Harrison continue to move forward.

Still, 35 games into the season, while there's time for T-shirts and "Horseface" jokes, there's no time to breathe easy.

"Things change so quickly," Daniels says. "Everyone was critical of the Marlins, and then they rolled off nine of 10. The flip side just as easily can turn.

"We're going to have a bad stretch. I'm certainly not looking at it like we're set."


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