Hamilton wonders if he can match his last ALCS

BY foxsports • October 8, 2011

A year after carrying the Texas Rangers in the AL championship series and into the World Series, Josh Hamilton wonders what he can do for an encore.

Hamilton isn't cocky enough to insinuate he could top his four-homer, eight-walk performance against the Yankees last October. He actually is curious how he'll play in this year's ALCS against the Detroit Tigers.

''I have no clue what I'm going to be able to do,'' he said Friday.

Then he smiled and added, ''That's why we play.''

Game 1 is Saturday night, with likely Cy Young winner Justin Verlander pitching for Detroit.

Hamilton is coming off a mediocre opening round against Tampa Bay, having gone 4 for 15 with a double and two RBIs. That's a lot better than his 2 for 18 against the Rays last year.

Rangers fans are hoping his better start to the postseason could mean Hamilton is poised for an even better ALCS.

''I feel a lot better right now (over this time last year) as far as having a game plan, being comfortable at the plate,'' he said. ''At the same time, I can't predict what's going to happen.''

Hamilton also thinks better things are ahead for the Rangers.

Giddy just to be in this round last year, they overcame a loss in the opener to knock out the Yankees in six games. Then they were flattened by the Giants in the World Series, losing in five games.

This year, despite losing Cliff Lee in free agency, Texas came back even stronger. The Rangers won a franchise-best 96 games, with a late surge that pushed them past Detroit for the second seed. That's huge now because it gives them home-field advantage in this round. They've already been home since ousting Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

''We're confident, but we're not arrogant,'' Hamilton said. ''We're having fun. Having fun and having confidence is a good combination to have.''

Much of the fun comes from the quality and depth of their lineup.

After losing Lee to the Phillies, management traded for Mike Napoli and signing Adrian Beltre. The best evidence of their impact came in the ALDS. Napoli won Game 3 with his bat, arm and legs, prompting Rays manager Joe Maddon to declare this ''The Year of Napoli,'' then Beltre became the first player ever to hit three homers in an ALDS game to power Texas to victory in the Game 4 clincher.

Beltre bats fifth and Napoli sixth, in prime position to drive in Hamilton, the No. 3 hitter.

''I feel like I don't have to do as much when you see guys up and down doing that,'' Hamilton said. ''At the same time, as a competitor, I want to go out there and dominate.''

The Yankees were so worried about Hamilton's power in last year's ALCS that they intentionally walked him five times. He walked three more times on his own as New York pitchers probably were being cautious not to give him anything he could whack.

The deeper lineup could mean Detroit gives Hamilton more pitches to hit, taking their chances with his bat rather than gambling on the other guys with the speedy Hamilton on the bases.

While Hamilton acknowledges ''they might challenge me more,'' he also said, ''this is the time of year to be patient.''

''It's about scoring runs, it's about taking leads, it's about holding onto them,'' he said. ''If I've got to take my walk, then I take my walks. I've scored from first many times. I enjoy doing that. That's the approach I'm going to have.''

Hamilton also was the MVP of the regular season last year, an honor he almost certainly won't win again. He still had a strong year, batting .298 with 25 homers and 94 RBIs. He missed 36 games early in the season because of a broken bone in his arm suffered on a play at the plate against these same Tigers. The season also was marred by the death of a firefighter who fell from the stands while trying to catch a ball for his son that was thrown by Hamilton.

''It's been an emotional year up and down,'' said Hamilton, whose wife had their third girl, a third daughter, later in the summer.

''It's been good for me to see all the guys and how they react and how they respond to things I have gone through - injuries, tragedy at the ballpark. But those things, you learn from them, you learn how to deal with them, how to cope with them, and you move forward.''

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