Major Leagues: Hamilton poised for strong finish
By Stephen Hawkins
ARLINGTON, Texas ó Without hesitation, Josh Hamilton knows the number.
Not the Texas slugger’s major league-leading RBI total, or his record-setting count in an awe-inspiring first round of the All-Star Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium this summer.
But how many games are left for the Rangers ó 18 after a day off Monday ó in what has been the longest season for Hamilton in his inspirational comeback.
“My toes don’t hurt,” Hamilton said, looking down at his feet in flip-flops. “Everything else pretty much hurts.”
Those are the aches and pains of playing 138 major league games. That is already 37 games more than Hamilton, the No. 1 overall draft pick nine years ago, has played in any single season of a professional career nearly derailed by drug and alcohol abuse before he finally made it to the majors last year with Cincinnati.
“That was one of the big things this year, figuring out how to stay in the lineup and keep playing through it,” he said.
“What’s happened to Josh with his fatigue has happened to every player,” manager Ron Washington said. “He’s handling it extremely well, and now he’s catching his second wind.”
Even though Hamilton dropped off the RBI-a-game pace he was on at the All-Star break, the center fielder is still batting .303 with 31 home runs and 124 RBIs. He has already joined Albert Pujols (2002) as the only players in the last 55 years with at least 120 RBIs in their sophomore seasons.
“Obviously I want to finish strong because I started off so well,” Hamilton said. “Last offseason, it was, can he hold up and play a whole season? If I didn’t finish strong, it would be, well, can he finish strong? … It would be a confidence booster going into next year if I can finish this thing like I’m doing.”
After struggling through August, when he hit .243 with five homers and 13 RBIs in 27 games, Hamilton is 12-for-24 with seven RBIs in six games in September.
Hamilton was limited to 90 games with the Reds last season, when he had two stints on the disabled list while hitting .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBIs in 298 at-bats. He also missed the final 17 games of the season because of a strained right hamstring and strained right wrist.
The Reds traded Hamilton last winter to Texas for top pitching prospect Edinson Volquez, a 16-game winner who also became an All-Star this season.
Hamilton became the first American Leaguer to be named player of the month in April and May of the same season. He reached 50 RBIs in 45 games, faster than any player in AL history to break a record that had been shared by Joe DiMaggio and Carl Everett.
Sports Illustrated put him on its cover, touting him as a Triple Crown threat, something last accomplished by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“He’s experiencing things he’s never experienced before and he’s had to fight through it,” Washington said. “He had such a great two months, he couldn’t keep up the pace. He’s only human.”
Fans voted Hamilton in as a starter in the All-Star Game in New York, where he wowed them at The House that Ruth Built in the Home Run Derby with a powerful display: 28 homers in the first round that averaged 445 feet each, with three 500-foot shots.
But the experience of his first All-Star week, which included the record 15-inning game and him getting “probably seven, eight hours of sleep” while in New York, was exhausting.
“It takes a lot out of you,” Hamilton said. “But it was good. It was worth it.”
Still, the fatigue caught up with Hamilton in August. And he started pressing when his numbers were slipping, which he noticed “go down, go down and go down” each time he came to bat and saw statistics on the scoreboard.
“It’s all a learning process,” he said. “They’re going to put it up there in front of you, but it came to a point where I got tired of looking up there at it. All I’m doing is driving myself crazy.”
At least his toes aren’t hurting.
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