Hamilton's pain threshold matches will to win
ST. LOUIS -- The degree of difficulty in winning a World Series cannot be overstated. But one thing is certain -- that difficulty increases dramatically when the No. 3 hitter in your lineup, the American League MVP Award winner from 2010, is hurting.
The Rangers, faced with this situation, were still good enough to earn a split of the first two games of the 2011 World Series on the road. And Josh Hamilton, playing at far less than top physical capacity, was still good enough to play a crucial role in their 2-1 victory over the Cardinals on Thursday night.
Hamilton has been suffering from a left groin strain. He has not hit a home run since Sept. 23. He acknowledged before Game 2 that if this were the regular season, he would be on the disabled list, not in the lineup.
"I just don't have that luxury right now," Hamilton said.
The Rangers don't have that luxury, either. They are trying to get something out of him, figuring that even a partially effective Hamilton is much better than no Hamilton at all. This turns out to be a precisely correct judgment.
When Hamilton was asked Thursday night if he had taken pain-killing injections in order to play with the injury, he responded, "I plead the fifth." We're going to take that as a yes.
Beyond Hamilton, the Rangers have a lineup that is deep, talented and, maybe best of all, relentless. They had been stopped cold for seven innings in Game 2 by Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia and went to the ninth trailing, 1-0. There Texas would face St. Louis' de facto closer, Jason Motte, throwing heat at just under 100 mph.
But second baseman Ian Kinsler, who reached base three times Thursday night, singled. When shortstop Elvis Andrus initially could not bunt him over, Kinsler challenged the outstanding arm of Cards catcher Yadier Molina and won, stealing second. Andrus made up for the non-bunt with a single to center, moving Kinsler to third, and then took second on the throw from center. That advance from first to second was subsequently scored as an error to first baseman Albert Pujols for failing to cut off the throw.
Hamilton, hitless in the Fall Classic up to this point, came up, and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was worried enough by Hamilton's presence to switch to a lefty, former Rangers reliever Arthur Rhodes. Injured or not, Hamilton looks difficult to St. Louis.
"I know he's got a groin problem, and I'm sure it has its effect, but he's still a very scary individual when he stands up there," La Russa said.
Hamilton delivered a healthy fly ball to right for a sacrifice fly and a tie game. If he is healthy and he can use his lower half to drive the ball as he normally would, maybe this is a three-run homer. But what Hamilton produced here was good enough. Michael Young followed against reliever Lance Lynn with his own sacrifice fly, and the Rangers had a 2-1 lead that closer Neftali Feliz would not surrender in the ninth. Instead of going to Arlington down two games, Texas is flying home on the wings of a victory with the World Series tied.
It was a gallant comeback for the Rangers.
"We played nine innings, and tonight was proof of the type of team we are," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "We've got a lot of character in that clubhouse."
Before the game, it had been suggested to Washington that he should either drop Hamilton in the lineup or, in the relatively chilly conditions at Busch Stadium, give him a night off. Washington essentially scoffed at these notions.
"I can't afford to take Hamilton out of my lineup," the 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."
Events proved Washington to be completely correct. Asked afterward what he knew about Hamilton that the media did not know, the skipper replied:
"I know my player. You know, 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 he tells me he can play, I'm putting him in the field. All I can say is, I know my players better than you guys."
Hamilton, asked about his injury before Game 2, said:
"Obviously, it hurts. It is what it is. I can play through it. It's something I have to deal with it. I wouldn't say I'm frustrated. I just have to make adjustments: just try to put the barrel on the ball and not use my lower half. I can hit line drives with my upper body."
After the game, Hamilton was running low on patience with questions regarding the injury.
"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, you know, so it's a non-issue as far as talking about it. So stop asking me, please."
Asked how the injury specifically limited his swing, Hamilton responded: "If I tell you, then the Cardinals might know how to pitch me, so I'm not telling you."
In the end, two very positive qualities were once again demonstrated by Texas. An aching Hamilton can still be a force in the lineup. And the Rangers are not only talented and deep, they know how to persevere, even at the most difficult times.
"We have the attitude of, you know what, until the last pitch is thrown, last out is made, we're going to keep fighting," Hamilton said. "You know, you can't really say why that is other than the character of the guys on our team."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.