ARLINGTON -- The moment was electric. Josh Hamilton knew it when he sprinted around second base and saw his teammates pouring toward home plate. "My first walk-off ever," Hamilton beamed afterward in the Rangers clubhouse. "My first helmet toss ever. I've always seen guys on TV toss their helmets and jump into the crowd at home plate. It's pretty cool." His teammates and 24,515 fans thought so. His teammates mobbed him and pummeled him at home plate in a group dance of triumph while 24,515 roared their approval after Hamilton hit a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning off of All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez to give the Rangers a 5-4 victory over the Angels at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Wednesday.
The Rangers trailed, 4-2, going into the ninth inning before rallying to win and move within 6 1/2 games of the Angels in the American League West. The win came on a night when the Rangers had to get by with four relievers doing all their pitching because of injuries to their starters. But the Rangers are now 1-0 when Warner "Mad Dog" Madrigal is their starter. "How about them Rangers," manager Ron Washington said. "You talk about heart and character. We may be down but we're never out, and tonight we showed what we are made of and we did it against one of the best relievers in the game." The home run, coming on a 3-1 curveball, was Hamilton's first since June 17, a span of 70 at-bats. "It's been a real challenge," Hamilton said. "I was battling tonight until my last at-bat. But when something like that happens, it reminds you how much you love playing this game." The Rangers now have seven straight one-run games with their fourth walk-off victory of the season. They have also won two straight over the Angels with two rookie starting pitchers making the first start of their Major League careers.
"That was awesome," outfielder David Murphy said. "You couldn't have asked for a better victory than against that team and their closer."
"We needed a win like this," said Ramon Vazquez, who started the rally with a leadoff walk. "It's just a huge win, to come from behind against that guy -- 30-something saves -- it does a lot for this team. We know we can beat anybody, no matter who is on the mound."
Madrigal was on the mound for the Rangers, at least for the first three innings. The Rangers, after putting Vicente Padilla on the disabled list, decided to pitch a combination of relievers rather than bring up a starter from the Minors. The gambit worked as Madrigal and Josh Rupe each pitched three innings and combined to allow two runs in six innings overall.
That amounts to a quality start, and was as good as anything the Rangers regular starters have done lately.
"Everybody stepped it up," Rangers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "They came out with everything they had and wearing everything on their sleeves and did a great job."
Madrigal and Rupe were able to match Jered Weaver through six innings and the game was tied at 2 when their work was done. However, Frank Francisco gave up a two-run home run to Juan Rivera in the seventh to give the Angels a 4-2 lead, and that's where it stood when the Rangers came to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
Rodriguez also came in to pitch, having allowed just four runs in his previous 34 1/3 innings over 36 outings. But something wasn't right from the beginning as he walked Vazquez on four pitches.
"For myself, I wasn't locating my pitches," Rodriguez said. "I didn't execute my pitches. When you walk a guy, you get yourself in trouble. Especially the leadoff guy."
Rodriguez came back to strike out Ian Kinsler and got Frank Catalanotto on a chopper to first. Vazquez went to second on the play and then scored when Young smacked a single past third baseman Chone Figgins.
That brought up Hamilton, and Young upped the drama by stealing second on a 1-1 pitch that missed outside. Hamilton took another ball, making it 3-1, but Rodriguez said he did not want to walk him and put the winning run on base.
So he threw a breaking ball. Hamilton swung and drove it to deep right. Washington, standing in the dugout next to Art Howe, knew what he was watching.
"I jumped on Art's back, because I knew it wasn't landing on the field," Washington said.
It didn't. It barely cleared the wall, but did so just enough to touch off the wild celebration at home plate.
"It was pretty sweet," Young said. "We've been looking for a moment like that for awhile. It's never easy to score off their closer. He's one of the best in the game but we were able to claw back and give Josh a chance."
That's all the Rangers needed.
|"My first walk-off ever, my first helmet toss ever. ... When something like that happens, it reminds you how much you love playing this game. "|
|-- Josh Hamilton|
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.