Hamilton's homer lifts Rangers vs. Twins

Hamilton's homer lifts Rangers

MINNEAPOLIS -- The starting pitcher couldn't find his rhythm or his location, and the middle relievers staggered to the brink of self-destruction.

Then came Josh Hamilton to save the day, and the Rangers were able to escape Minnesota with a four-game split of their series against the Twins.

Hamilton hit his 12th home run of the season with two out in the top of the 10th inning, to lift the Rangers to an 8-7 victory over the Twins at the Metrodome on Thursday afternoon. The Rangers led, 4-0, in the first inning, 6-3 in the middle of the sixth, and 7-5 going into the bottom of the eighth, but they needed extra innings and Hamilton's home run to notch the victory.

Hamilton wasn't even in the original lineup. He began the day hitting .236 in day games, and manager Ron Washington was planning to give him the day off. Hamilton was able to talk his way into the lineup, however, and delivered his second game-winning home run on the road this year. He also hit one on April 1 in Seattle.

"Ham pulled it out," Washington said. "He's a good player. You throw the ball over the plate -- all pitches -- he's strong. He's got the ability to hit the big home run."

He did just that off of reliever Brian Bass, and the Rangers have now won 17 of their last 26 games. They are also 7-0-1 in their last eight series.

"We needed this one," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We knew we needed a split. We'd like to have won three out of four or swept, but they're a tough team at home."

The Twins were certainly tough enough not to fold after starter Livan Hernandez gave up four in the first inning. They got three runs off of Rangers starter Vicente Padilla and two more in the sixth, when Rangers relievers Jamey Wright and Frank Francisco both walked in runs. Minnesota trailed, 7-5, going into the bottom of the eighth, but Justin Morneau's two-run single tied the game.

The score remained tied at 7 when Hamilton came to the plate with two outs in the top of the 10th against Bass, who began the inning by striking out Kinsler and Michael Young. Hamilton then worked the count full, fouled off a pitch and then went to the opposite field, driving the ball over the left-field wall for the game-winning home run.

"I was just trying to put it in play and hit it hard," Hamilton said. "If you put it in play, something might happen. Somebody might fall down or get a knock. That's how you approach it with two strikes: shorten [your swing] up and put the ball in play."

C.J. Wilson was the one Rangers reliever who didn't break a sweat, setting the Twins down in order in the bottom of the 10th for his first save since May 7.

"It seems like a long time," said Wilson, who blew a save here on Monday night. "It feels good, especially facing some of the same guys I faced earlier in the series. In extra innings, I pitch well. I stay loose, while everybody else gets tired running around on the turf."

Hamilton's home run put the finishing touches on a tremendous afternoon by the middle of the Rangers order. Hamilton, Milton Bradley and David Murphy are driving the Rangers' offense right now.

The three combined to go 8-for-14 with three walks, four runs and three RBIs on the afternoon.

Hamilton, who also added a sacrifice fly, leads the American League with 53 RBIs. Bradley, after reaching base four times in six plate appearances, leads the league with a .433 on-base percentage. His .570 slugging percentage is also in the top five. Murphy is now hitting .291 with six home runs and 31 RBIs.

"It's always fun to watch Ham and it's great to hit behind Milton," Murphy said. "He has such great at-bats, he might get down, 0-2, but he still may get a walk anyway, or find some way to get on base. It seems like I'm always going up there with runners in scoring position or men on base. It's a good situation to hit."

Having two hot hitters behind Hamilton kept the Twins from pitching around him in the 10th inning.

"It's tough," Morneau said. "You have one of the hottest hitters in baseball beat us, and you never want to let that guy beat you. But the guy hitting behind him is swinging a good bat too, so it's kind of tough. Do you walk him and give the guy behind him a chance? It's just one of those things."

The middle of the Rangers' lineup doesn't offer much of a choice.

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