Commentary

Hurting Josh Hamilton lifts Texas

Slugger's ninth-inning sac fly helps Rangers edge Cards in World Series Game 2

Updated: October 21, 2011, 5:11 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- A full five and a half hours before the Texas Rangers would duct tape the mouths of a 47,000-plus Busch Stadium crowd and even this World Series, Ron Washington made a prediction.

It was the kind of prediction that could come back to haunt you like Jacob Marley, family vacation videos or six-alarm chili. And Washington didn't care.

The topic was Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP whose late-season groin strain had slowly sapped him of his power, mobility and, most of all, his ability to overtake a game. So the question was asked: Down 0-1, another chilly St. Louis night ahead, the possibility of resting his star for 2½ days … did Washington consider replacing Hamilton in the Rangers' Game 2 lineup.

"I can't afford to take Hamilton out of my lineup," the Texas manager said. "Even if Hamilton doesn't do anything, he makes a difference just with his presence in our lineup and I want his presence in it -- and it's in there tonight. Don't be surprised if he comes up big, because I certainly won't."

[+] EnlargeJosh Hamilton
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJosh Hamilton, 0-for-3 entering the ninth, saved his best swing for last -- a game-tying sac fly against former teammate Arthur Rhodes.

And then the essentially one-legged Hamilton had a broken-bat groundout to short during his first inning at-bat. Then a nothing fly ball to left in the fourth inning. Then a wave of the arms on a swinging strikeout in the seventh.

Come up big? After those three at-bats Thursday night and the O-fer he took the previous evening, it looked like ice skater Scott Hamilton had a better chance of getting a hit than Josh did.

Hamilton couldn't warm up properly. He couldn't make a check swing without the pain reverberating through his body like a tuning fork for the next 15 minutes. He couldn't "run or do anything" explosive. Otherwise, everything was great.

"Now I'm at the point, whatever," Hamilton said before the game. Then he added, "I'm not looking at it as a big deal."

It wasn't a big deal. It was a HUGE deal. And Washington knew it, which is why he stuck his neck out from here back to Arlington, Texas.

Don't be surprised if he comes up big, because I certainly won't.

So with no outs in the top of the ninth, Rangers on second and third, Texas trailing, 1-0, and Cardinals reliever Arthur Rhodes on the mound (the same former Ranger who had gotten Hamilton to fly out the night before), Hamilton stepped to the plate.

One pitch later, the game was tied.

"Obviously, I faced him [Wednesday] night and he kept throwing me heaters up, heaters in," Hamilton said in a near-monotone, as though he were reciting a grocery list. "I was actually sitting first-pitch slider and just reacted, and that's a good thing sometimes -- just reacting instead of trying to make it happen. So that was it."

Hamilton's RBI-sacrifice fly was the first game-tying, ninth-inning sac fly in a World Series since 2005. Michael Young followed with another RBI-sac fly that put the Rangers ahead. And that's where they stayed.

The Cardinals' home-field advantage is now neutralized. They were three outs away from a 2-0 Series lead, but all that changed with Hamilton's and Young's RBIs. Beginning Saturday evening, the next three games are at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where mittens and ski wear won't be needed. Who knows what happens next?

"We played nine innings and tonight was proof of the type of team that we are," Washington said. "We've got a lot of character in that clubhouse."

Washington, who was second-guessed for his pinch-hitting choices in Texas' Game 1 loss, would have been criticized again had Hamilton not delivered in Game 2. Not that he cared.

"I know my player," he said. "Things are going around that Hamilton is dealing with some problems -- and he is -- but the nine guys that I put out there on the field tonight, those are the nine guys that got me here and we're going to deal with them through good times and bad times. If [Hamilton] tells me he can play, I'm putting him on the field. All I can say is I know my players better than you guys."

Hamilton wouldn't come right out and say it, but he didn't deny that his injured groin required a pregame painkilling injection. ("I plead the fifth," he said.) And he admitted that the injury forced him to take less-aggressive swings.

"Health-wise, it is what it is," he said. "I'm tired of talking about it. I'm going to hurt until the season is over. So it's a non-issue as far as talking about it. So stop asking me, please."

But how do you ignore the medical condition of the No. 3 hitter in the Rangers' batting order? How do you pretend Hamilton didn't walk into the visitor's clubhouse postgame dining spread wearing a huge bandage wrappred around his upper left thigh? You can't.

Hamilton is 0-for-7 in this World Series and he hasn't hit a home run since Sept. 23. He isn't 100 percent healthy, not even close.

But a ninth-inning fly ball to right changes everything. At least, for a few days it does.

Without those two sacrifice flies, Texas, the World Series favorite, is down 0-2 and leaking tobacco spittle. Their two best starting pitchers (C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis) would have losses.

"There was good karma in our dugout tonight," Washington said.

It started hours earlier in a Busch Stadium interview room. Washington promised something big from Hamilton and he got it.

And now we've got a Series.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

MORE COMMENTARY

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter