Richard Justice

Hamilton at center of something special

Justice: Hamilton at center of something special

Hamilton at center of something special
ARLINGTON -- Josh Hamilton showered quickly and threw on some clothes to get back outside.

"Don't want to miss the fireworks," he said after the Rangers had beaten the Angels, 10-3, on Friday night.

But for most of the rest of the 48,201 fans at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, it was Hamilton who made the evening memorable.

He hit two more home runs, a towering moonshot off Angels right-hander Jerome Williams in the second inning, and then another, a line drive that left the park in an instant, also off Williams, in the fourth inning.

If you're keeping score, that's eight in a mere 18 at-bats and 17 in 33 games. Just when you think you've seen something he can't possibly top, he does something else.

He's hitting mistake pitches, good pitches, all pitches. He's hitting .407 and leading baseball in just about everything. If he comes to bat, put down what you're doing and pay attention. Yes, he's THAT good.

"He's the most gifted player in the game," Rangers teammate Michael Young said. "He's capable of doing things like this. Obviously, we want it to last as long as possible."

After all these games, we gather around his locker with cameras and notepads to get him to explain how he's doing it. He has long since stopped trying, and so have his teammates.

"When you play the game, you want to slow it down as much as you possibly can," he said. "It's fast. When you do things not quite the right way, it makes it faster, so you're not able to do what you want to do as a player. There's nights where things slow down and you see the ball well and you put good swings on them."

We're reaching the point where opposing pitchers are going to stop throwing him strikes. In fact, we may already be there. Hamilton leads the Majors in intentional walks, and in the fifth inning Friday night, the Angels decided not to be part of his supporting cast.

With first base open, they did what a lot of teams probably are going to start doing. They gave him the base rather than take the chance of another pitch becoming history.

"He's as locked in as any hitter can be right now," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

The Rangers don't seem bothered by this possibility. They appear to be baseball's best team, and Josh Hamilton may be the biggest reason. But he's not the only reason.

"That's their business, not ours," Young said when asked about Hamilton getting intentionally walked in critical situations. "We have depth up and down our lineup. If they want to give us free baserunners, we'll take every last one of 'em."

Hamilton has hit balls so hard there's almost no time to enjoy them. They leave the bat and they seem to disappear. He said he thinks fastball on every at-bat, then trusts his instincts to react to everything else.

"If you get a pitch up in the zone, he's going to barrel it," Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland said. "It seems like every one of 'em go over the fence right now."

After Hamilton hit four home runs in a single game in Baltimore on Tuesday, it didn't seem he could do anything to top that. But he has just kept going. Hamilton also hit one on Monday.

When he trotted back out to left field in the top of the sixth inning on Friday, he got a rousing standing ovation and responded with a quick salute and a smile.

"It was cool," he said. "You don't know what to do in that instance because it's in the middle of a game. But I appreciate the fans."

He has long been the Rangers' most popular player, partly because of the way he has played and partly because of his ongoing battle against addiction has made him seem so human, so vulnerable.

No one knew what to expect when he became one of the first of many shrewd moves by Rangers general manager Jon Daniels after the 2007 season. Daniels couldn't have known it at the time, but he was getting, not only a guy who would do magical things, but he would help a team that had never won so much as a postseason series win back-to-back American League pennants.

The Rangers drew their seventh consecutive sellout Friday, and an entire clubhouse seems to understand they're part of something special. At the center of it all is Josh Hamilton.

"I feel very blessed," he said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.