NEW YORK (AP) — Josh Hamilton received no cheers for this home run at Yankee Stadium.
In one of the highlights of the final season at old Yankee Stadium two years ago, the Texas Rangers slugger thrilled New York fans when hit a record 28 homers in the first round of the All-Star Home Run Derby.
On Monday night, his just-barely-enough drive into the short right-field porch off Andy Pettitte gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in the first inning. He added a double that started a six-run ninth that emptied the ballpark as Texas won 8-0 and took a 2-1 lead over New York in the AL championship series.
Back then, much of the attention was on Hamilton’s comeback from eight trips to rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction.
Now, the fuss in over his return from a pair of broken ribs, an injury sustained when he ran into the left-field wall at Minnesota’s Target Field catching Delmon Young’s fly. He’s 3 for 10 with five RBIs and five walks in the ALCS.
“Nobody’s 100 percent at this point in the year,” he said in an almost word-for-word repeat of an answer he gave 1½ weeks earlier. “The only thing that really bothers me is a swing and miss, and I try not to do that — or either hitting a wall or hitting somebody or diving. So it’s amazing how you can adjust and adapt to injuries, things that are hurting on you. You can overcome them.”
At the time of the injury, Hamilton was hitting .361 with 31 home runs and 97 RBIs. He didn’t return until Oct. 1 and hardly had chance to prep for the playoffs, going 3 for 11 with one homer and three RBIs. Still, his .359 average led majors and won his first AL batting title.
He took to wearing a flak jacket, just to protect himself in case he hit a wall again.
He hit .111 (2 for 18) with one RBI — a run-scoring groundout — in the division series against the Rays. There were fears the sore ribs had sapped the pop in his bat.
But his first-inning, three-run homer off CC Sabathia helped the Rangers build a 5-0 lead against the Yankees in Game 1, then he walked four times in Game 2 and hit another first-inning home run in Game 3 that landed about two rows in.
“It was just a bad pitch by me. I hung a cutter, left it on the inner half,” Pettitte said. “I was trying to get it down and away, and, you know, he hit it out. And at the time you don’t think that’s going to win the ballgame.”
But with Cliff Lee on the mound, it was more than enough.
“Any time you can score early like that and get a two-run lead in the first, it definitely makes things easier on the starting pitcher,” Lee said. “It sets the tone early.”
Hamilton nearly hit another two-run drive in the sixth, when he flied out to the right-field warning track, and then he doubled to left-center off Boone Logan in the ninth and came around on Nelson Cruz’s single.
“You saw what he does. It’s very important,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “Up until this point, maybe he and Vlad (Guerrero) had not done much. You might contain them, but you can’t stop them.”
Thinking back, Hamilton felt fortunate about the homer.
“I was not looking out for that pitch,” he said. “One of those things. I caught it on the barrel, caught it up front, and it went.”
And now the Rangers and Hamilton are two wins from their first World Series trip.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.