MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Aggressive Hamilton can't play any other way

Justice: Hamilton can't play any other way

Aggressive Hamilton can't play any other way
ARLINGTON -- Let's begin the daily Josh Hamilton report with two incidents from the last week that speak volumes about him.

First, after a rainout on Wednesday in Baltimore, Hamilton changed into shorts and a T-shirt and went back onto the field to run and play. You know, like thousands and thousands of other boys and girls have done through the years.

He looked like the happiest 12-year-old on Earth as he took off, dived onto the soaked tarp and launched himself across the infield. He was laughing and smiling and so full of exuberance that it barely seemed to matter that is ability to stay healthy is one of the few concerns the Rangers have about him.

In that moment, he was just a happy kid out having fun with teammates. Nothing wrong with that, right, Jon Daniels?

"That's not necessarily how I would choose for the kid to go out and have fun, but it's all right," the Rangers' general manager said. "As long as the kid doesn't hit what I like to call the mound, we're good."

There was a similar moment late in Friday's game when the Rangers were ahead by seven runs and Hamilton had already homered twice. He tapped a ground ball to third base, sprinted out of the batter's box, and as he attempted to beat the throw, launched his 240 pounds into the air and dived toward the bag.

The Rangers have asked him not to do this. In fact, they've almost pleaded with him, reminding him of that the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

And yet, they understand.

"When you're competing, you do what you got to do," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "When a guy smells a hit, he reacts."

As a competitor himself, Washington gets it.

"I threatened him one time that I was going to sit him," he said. "It didn't work. I had to play him."

Washington smiles and shrugs. His guy is on one of the great runs in the history of this wonderful game and seems to be having the time of his life. He's doing news conferences before and after games, doesn't seem bothered when comparisons are made to Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds or any of the other great single-season performances.

"Just don't tell me," Hamilton said.

And so it goes. He had a double, single and three RBIs on Sunday as the Rangers beat the Angels, 13-6, to run their record to an American League-best 23-12.

For Hamilton, it was the end of seven of the best days any baseball player has ever had: nine home runs and 18 RBIs.

Yes, in seven games.

He's hitting .402 with 18 home runs and 44 RBIs. He's leading MLB in all three categories and is the 14th player since 1918 with that kind of production in 35 games. If there's an explanation, he doesn't have it.

"I really hadn't thought about it," he said. "It really hasn't been different for me. I'm not paying attention to results. Same old thing. I'm just going out and doing whatever I can to help the team."

About the only loss was the bat he used for eight of the nine home runs. He cracked it on a seventh-inning single Sunday and promptly handed it off for shipment to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"She died a hero," Hamilton said. "She worked hard."

With 18 home runs, Hamilton has three more than Barry Bonds did after 35 games on his way to the single-season record of 73 in 2001.

At some point, the numbers become a blur.

"Honestly, I don't think about it at all until I see somebody and they remind me of it, or I talk to you guys about it," Hamilton said. "It's over with. I said after that night [when he hit four homers], dealing with the historic part of it and talking to everybody, it was over with [after that]. Next day, I show up with things I have to do to play good that day. I get here and do my work."

He has seen the overall numbers so many times that they don't mean anything to him.

"Just like when they flash the numbers up there while I'm in the trainer's room and guys are looking at me," he said. "I'll go back and look at the at-bats. I'll study it. But the numbers are flashed in front of your face everyday."

He said there's just one number he pays attention to: games played. He has played more than 133 just once in his five Major League seasons, and that's why the Rangers cringe when they see him diving toward first base.

Still, it's part of why they like him that they understand he can't play any other way.

"As you guys know, I play hard," he said. "I feel like if I don't play hard I'll end up hurting something. Wash always tells me, `Just be in the lineup.' There's something to be said for that."

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