Hamilton's blast rescues Rangers

Hamilton's blast rescues Rangers

SEATTLE-- Josh Hamilton spent all spring impressing anybody who was watching with his stunning displays of power.

On a cold Tuesday night in the Pacific Northwest, Hamilton put on an impressive display of both raw power and speed in saving the Rangers from themselves and a ravaging flu bug. Spring Training is nice, but call this game the first real indication of what the Rangers might have picked up in a trade from Cincinnati.

Hamilton's power supply was certainly the most memorable moment, as he hit a two-run home run off of All-Star closer J.J. Putz in the top of the ninth inning that carried the Rangers to a 5-4 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.

The victory wasn't finally secure until reliever C.J. Wilson, with the tying run at second base, got Ichiro Suzuki on a grounder to short to end the game. But the Rangers did finally get that first victory after being in serious danger of wasting another solid starting pitching performance because of erratic defense.

"A great victory," manager Ron Washington said.

"Awesome, really awesome," Wilson echoed after picking up his first save.

The Rangers trailed 4-3 going into the ninth inning after they basically had given away three runs in the bottom of the eighth on two errors and a wild pitch. Defense was also a problem on Opening Day, but this time the Rangers were able to overcome it.

It didn't help that third baseman Hank Blalock and shortstop Michael Young were trying to play despite a severe case of the flu. They said before the game they would be fine, but Blalock was removed for defensive purposes late and Young was sagging badly at his locker after the game. His gravelly voice was exhibit A to how he was feeling.

But the Rangers still won.

"You play nine innings," Washington said. "I always said these guys play nine innings, and they did tonight. We made some mistakes, but we played nine innings and got the win."

Ian Kinsler, one of the eighth-inning defensive culprits, singled to center on a seven-pitch at-bat against Putz to lead off the ninth. After Young struck out, Hamilton crushed the first pitch he saw into the right-field seats for a two-run home run.

"It's always good to get that first victory under your belt," Hamilton said. "When you go back and forth like that, it shows a lot about your team. We have a never-say-die attitude, and hopefully that will be with us all year."

Hamilton's speed was also crucial for the Rangers, both on defense and at the plate. He made two terrific running catches in center field -- one in left-center in the fifth and one in deep right-center in the seventh -- and also beat out an infield hit to lead off the Rangers' two-run eighth inning.

"He's pretty good," first baseman Ben Broussard said. "It's a lot of fun to watch what he's going to do next. Everybody believes in him and can't help but pull for him. He's got unbelievable ability."

Hamilton even showed some dexterity on the catch in the fifth. As he raced to the wall in deep left-center to run down Brad Wilkerson's long fly, he had to dodge a piece of garlic bread thrown from the stands.

"I could smell the garlic, that's how close it was," Hamilton said.

The infield hit was the opening salvo for the crazy final two innings. Rangers starter Vicente Padilla, with six strong innings, and Mariners counterpart Felix Hernandez, who went seven, dominated much of the game and it was tied, 1-1, going into the eighth.

Hamilton, leading off against left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty, hit a high chopper to first baseman Richie Sexson and just flat-out beat him to the bag with his speed.

"I was rolling," Hamilton admitted. "You chop a ball in the infield, you never know what's going to happen. I guess that got things going."

It did. Blalock followed with a double, and Milton Bradley's sacrifice fly gave the Rangers a lead. David Murphy added a run-scoring double and the Rangers were up 3-1.

They couldn't keep it. Errors by Young and Kinsler and a wild pitch by reliever Joaquin Benoit proved crucial in the bottom of the eighth in allowing the Mariners to score three. But all that did was set up Hamilton's big final moment and the Rangers' big first victory of the season.

"We didn't play well," Young said. "But we've got some guys battling the flu, and we battled our tails off for a win against one of the best closers in the game. A great ballgame."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.