The Reds' speedster doesn't just steal bases, he steals ballgames.
"It's fun being fast" -Billy Hamilton
David Kohl / USA TODAY Sports
By Hal McCoy
CINCINNATI -- What does it mean when Billy Hamilton gets on base and uses the basepaths as his personal running track? Ask the San Francisco Giants, who may or may not have seen Hamilton scurrying around the bases like the ghost of Mercury at Great American Ball Park Tuesday night.
Asked that question, Hamilton broke into a broad smile and uttered the truest words ever spoken by a baseball player: "It's fun being fast." And it matches the tee-shirt Hamilton wears under his baseball uniform: "Speed Kills."
The Reds used a pair of four-run innings, both ignited by Hamilton and his derring-do on the basepaths to torch the Giants, 8-3.
San Francisco's Hunter Pence homered with one out in the top of the first off Homer Bailey and it looked as if the team with the best record in baseball (37-21) was off to the races.
They hadn't seen the real race yet. Hamilton hadn't yet left the starting blocks.
Hamilton led off the bottom of the first with a double to left. He broke for third too early, though, and Tim Lincecum had him easily off of second, but the Giants pitcher hurried his throw into the outfield enabling Hamilton to score.
Hamilton led the fourth with an infield hit and it was Billy-Around-The-Bases again. He stole second and continued to third when catcher Hector Sanchez's throw whizzed into center field. Frazier walked and Brandon Phillips drilled a two-run double.
And that's the way the Reds roll when Billy The Bandit gets on base. He not only steals bases, he steals games.
There is no doubt the Reds do great things when Hamilton is breezing around the bases like California Chrome, leading off innings.
"That's my job," said Hamilton. "I hear these guys every single day. They preach to me, 'If you go, we go,' that's our saying in the dugout. No matter how many outs, no matter the situation, they feel if I get on that pumps the team up. So I feel a responsibility to get on every time.
"And that pressure doesn't bother me," he said. "I try to live up to the level of whatever the team needs me to do. They tell me I have to get on and once they say that, I say, 'Man, it really means a lot that the team says once I get on we go. I want to go, too."
Hamilton says when he gets on base it not only charges his dugout, but he can smell and hear and see fear in the defenders.
"It's awesome man, a real blessing," he said. "When I get on base I see everything changing. I see guys interacting with each other. It was a perfect example when I got on second base tonight. The shortstop and second basemen were talking to everybody, asking, 'What do I do here, do I hold him here, where do I go?' I can see that stuff and it makes me feel good, makes me feel special."
There is nobody more appreciative of Hamilton's game-wrecking ability than first-year manager Bryan Price.
"What Hamilton does is one of those things that has been missing from baseball, the really prolific base stealer," said Price. "Somebody who has gone unnoticed is Dee Gordon of the Dodgers (34 stolen bases to lead the league). He is having a similar effect in LA. He is a guy a lot like Billy, a guy who came up with big expectations. But it took him a little bit to get his feet under him at the big league level.
"But Billy is doing with a lot more hype," Price added. "When he gets on he is going to score a run. He is instant scoring position when he gets on first. It freaks a lot of people out. And it is certainly fun to have on our side."
Price said Hamilton's flying feet on the bases overshadows what he is doing in center field, using those same flying feet to chase down every hit in his zip code. And until two years ago he was a shortstop who had never played center field.
"He is a great defender," said Price. "It is already prolific. Not just the diving catches he makes but all the ground that he covers. And his throwing arm and his throwing accuracy are outstanding. His speed and prowess makes every corner outfielder a better player, too. It's phenomenal. For playing it only two years it is very special that he has not just played the position, he has excelled at it."