Hamilton's power missing this postseason
Slugger held hitless in Game 1; hasn't homered since Sept. 23
ST. LOUIS -- Josh Hamilton's 2011 postseason homerless stretch lengthened to 45 at-bats in Game 1 of the World Series, and the St. Louis Cardinals' approach toward him in their 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night indicated that he'll be challenged to end this skid.Hamilton batted a creditable .293 (12-for-41) in the previous two postseason rounds. But like most of his Rangers teammates, he was silenced by St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter, who held him hitless in three at-bats. After grounding out in the first inning and taking a called third strike in the fourth, Hamilton flied out to medium-deep center field in the sixth inning with Ian Kinsler on second base and one out. That was Hamilton's lone plate appearance with a runner on base. After right-hander Octavio Dotel retired the first two Rangers hitters in the eighth inning, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa played the time-honored percentages by summoning southpaw Arthur Rhodes to face the left-handed-hitting Hamilton. The count went to 3-2 before Rhodes threw a slider that prompted another fly to center. Hamilton will begin Thursday's Game 2 facing another lefty, Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia. And expect the club to keep trying to neutralize Hamilton with left-handers out of the bullpen. As St. Louis left-hander Marc Rzepczynski said, "Arthur was able to get Hamilton out tonight, but it could be me tomorrow. You never know."
Predictably, Hamilton was less consistent during the regular season against left-handers than against righties. He batted .260 off lefties, compared to .314 against right-handers. But he hit 10 home runs in 155 plate appearances against southpaws, an average of one in every 15.5 times he strode to the plate. Hamilton homered 15 times off right-handers in 383 plate appearances, or once every 25.5 times he stepped into the batter's box against them.Besides receiving extra attention from opposing managers, Hamilton's also dealing with a left groin injury that has limited his power in recent weeks. He did not appear at his dressing stall before the Rangers closed their clubhouse to reporters following Wednesday's game, prompting the assumption that he was receiving extensive treatment for his ailment. Whether Hamilton's healthy or not, the Rangers rely heavily on their No. 3 hitter and maintain belief that each new day will be the one in which he delivers a dominant performance. "It's a little surprising," Kinsler said of Hamilton's homerless streak. "But [hitting a] home run is hard to do. It's not easy. He had 600 and some at-bats and he maybe hit 30 [actually, 25]. That's a pretty good number. We don't expect him to hit a home run. We expect him to have a presence in the lineup, which he does every night. He's going to continue to be in the lineup and continue to play hard." Indeed, as a four-time All-Star and the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player, Hamilton has become the type of performer from whom excellence is expected, if not demanded. "That's sports, man," Kinsler said. "They thought [Detroit ace Justin] Verlander was 6-foot-10 throwing 140 [mph] and you couldn't even see the ball. That's the questions we were getting. Everyone's human. I'm glad that Josh is on our team. He obviously makes an impact on the game, whether he's getting his hits or not." Rhodes, who turns 42 on Monday, knew that he had one job: to insure that Hamilton would remain stymied. Rhodes opted to challenge Hamilton with fastballs, then alter that approach late in the count. "If I get to 3-2, I throw a breaking ball to him," Rhodes said. "If he swings at it in the dirt, I'll get a strikeout. If it's in the middle of the plate, he'll pop it up or hit a ground ball. So I had a game plan with him." Rhodes indeed worked the count full despite falling behind 2-0 and 3-1. And he indeed threw Hamilton a slider on the payoff pitch. "He's a great hitter," said Rhodes, who pitched for the Rangers earlier this season. "I told everybody that lineup over there is dangerous, from No. 1 to No. 9." Rhodes was the fourth of five relievers La Russa employed. And Hamilton wasn't the only left-handed batter the Cardinals tried to muzzle. With runners on first and second and one out in the seventh, Rzepczynski entered the game with David Murphy due up. Rangers manager Ron Washington countered with right-handed-hitting pinch-hitter Craig Gentry, but Rzepczynski responded by retiring Gentry on a called third strike before fanning Esteban German, another right-handed batter off the bench. Asked whether he expected to face Gentry, Rzepczynski said, "You never know in that kind of situation. With the pitcher on deck, I wasn't sure what [Washington] was going to do." But Rzepczynski had an inkling that he might confront Gentry. "He usually faces lefties for the most part," Rzepczynski said. "I've never seen him; he's never seen me."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.