There is no happier harbinger in baseball than translucent tarpaulin. It’s unfurled in the late innings when a series clincher is near, to protect the carpets and cables and televisions where a celebration is about to erupt. Once the clubhouse kids do that, you have clipped the tip of your victory cigar.
Thursday was the perfect occasion for the Texas Rangers to win their first title. It would be the fitting coda to one of the most memorable nights in World Series history, 11 frigid innings with even more thrills than chills.
In the 10th, redeemed Rangers superstar Josh Hamilton struck a go-ahead home run that was equal parts Kirk Gibson and Roy Hobbs. Later, as the clock crept past midnight and reporters surrounded him, the monitor above Hamilton’s locker remained sheathed in plastic.
But instead of the celebratory splash, there was an eerie quiet around Hamilton as he spoke.
“I would tell y’all something,” he said with a grin, “but y’all wouldn’t believe me.”
No, we pressed. Please tell.
So he did.
“The Lord told me it was going to happen before it happened,” Hamilton continued. “‘You hadn’t hit a home run in a while. You’re about to right now.’”
Not the typical quote.
Not the typical game.
Not the typical player.
So perhaps Hamilton’s moment will linger, even though David Freese, the 28-year-old St. Louis third baseman, was the walk-off hero; even though the Cardinals won, 10-9, after twice being pushed to within one strike of winter; even though there will be a Game 7 on Friday.
Hamilton’s homer is the tale of what almost was. And it’s one that needs to be told, because that word has played such a powerful role in Hamilton’s story. He is the former No. 1 overall pick who, because of drug addiction, almost never had a career at all. Now, he said God spoke to him before the biggest at-bat of his life.
But what Hamilton heard was not about winning the World Series. He didn’t even think that the title was won after the ball landed in the stands. “That never crossed my mind,” he said. “I just did what I was supposed to do.” And so that was that: No outcome promised. No victory assured. Just the swing.
Hamilton’s relationship with God is well-documented, due to how openly he talks about the role faith has played in his battle with addiction. He frequently attributes perseverance and on-field success to Christ.
But this was different. This was one of the best players in baseball, the reigning American League MVP, saying he heard God’s voice as he walked to the plate, right before he deposited Jason Motte’s 98-mile-per-hour fastball over the wall in right-center. Hamilton sensed where Motte’s fastball was going to be – because of baseball intuition, not divine intervention. The Cardinals have been pitching him inside throughout the World Series. He figured that wasn’t going to change. So, he simply started his swing earlier.
And the ball flew.
“I probably had the most relaxed, peaceful at-bat I’ve had the whole series,” Hamilton said.
Because Hamilton’s postseason has been neither relaxed nor peaceful, this was one of the more shocking home runs of his five-year major-league career. He’s playing through an abdominal injury – probably a sports hernia, which would require surgery after the season. He’s hitting .240 in the World Series.
Hamilton hadn’t homered – regular season or postseason – in more than a month. And it wasn’t as if he could enjoy this trot. He said one thought kept coming back to him as he rounded the bases: This hurts, this hurts, this hurts …
"That’s probably the slowest I’ve ever run the bases after hitting a home run,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t hear the crowd. I didn’t hear anything. I just saw my teammates at the plate and the reaction from the dugout. It was pretty cool, man.”
Hamilton told several teammates what he experienced before the at-bat. But he also made clear that the message had nothing to do with winning the World Series. “It wasn’t like a premonition: You’re going to do this, and you guys are going to win,” Hamilton said. “(It was), ‘You’re going to do this, period.’”
In the end, Hamilton was merely the first eyewitness to Freese’s game-ending shot in the 11th, which crashed onto the center-field berm as Hamilton watched helplessly from the warning track. Hamilton hardly seemed bitter about a loss that seemed so cruel and soul-crushing. He accepted that the fate of the 2011 Rangers would wait for another day, a matter to be settled by Texas lefty Matt Harrison, (possibly) St. Louis righty Chris Carpenter, and the relief pitchers certain to follow them both.
Hamilton said he would pray about Game 7, but that was not a revelation. He prays about a lot of things. He emphasized that his team had another game to play. He refused to admit that he spent what might have been his last great swing of the season on a home run that did something less than win the World Series. Asked about the Gibson comparison, Hamilton smiled and said, “No fist pumps for me.”
His team lost. His clubhouse was dry. His home run will never be as great as it would have been if Nelson Cruz had caught that line drive in the ninth inning.
But to Josh Hamilton, one walk to the batter’s box was a story worth telling.
“When you get moments like that, they’re meant to be shared,” he said, “whether people think they’re crazy or not.”