Now, Hamilton may be the only thing hotter than the Rays.
The Texas Rangers’ slugging center fielder will look to extend his major league RBI lead Wednesday afternoon, when two of the AL’s most surprising teams settle their series in St. Petersburg.
One year after they were formed, the Rays (31-21) drafted Hamilton with the top overall pick in the 1999 draft, but the young prospect never played a game for Tampa Bay, instead battling with injuries and drug addiction.
Hamilton finally made his major league debut last year with Cincinnati, and he’s thrived in his first season with Texas (27-27). He ranks among the AL’s top three in batting average (.329) and home runs (13) while comfortably leading the majors with 58 RBIs.
He went 0-for-4 Monday, getting held without an RBI for the fourth straight game as the Rays won their fourth straight 7-3. But Hamilton rebounded Tuesday, going 2-for-5 with a grand slam, a double and five RBIs in the Rangers’ 12-6 victory.
“It felt good … especially in that situation,” Hamilton said. “This is where I started, and it’s my first home run here.”
In his last 18 games, Hamilton is batting .410 with six homers and 22 RBIs, helping the Rangers again get back to .500 after their 7-16 start. They’ve failed to climb above that mark twice in their last five games, but they’ll have another chance at their first winning record since they were 5-4.
The Rays, meanwhile, had the best record in baseball before Tuesday’s defeat. They’ve still won 14 of their last 19 overall and 16 of 18 at home.
Matt Garza has been among the players who have starred at Tropicana Field. In his last two starts there, Garza (3-1, 4.06 ERA) is 2-0, allowing just nine hits in 14 1-3 shutout innings.
He threw 7 1-3 innings in the Rays’ 2-0 victory over Baltimore Friday—the sixth time this season that Tampa Bay has blanked an opponent at home.
“We had to pitch like we did,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said after that game. “It’s been the formula—good pitching, solid defense, a timely hit now and then, and it seems to be working.”
It will be difficult to shut down a Texas lineup that leads the AL with 286 runs. While Hamilton has led the way, Milton Bradley, David Murphy and Ian Kinsler each have at least 17 RBIs in 26 games in May. Michael Young has also hit in 13 straight contests.
Tuesday’s outburst was the eighth time the Rangers have scored in double digits in the last 29 games.
“We needed every run we got tonight,” Rangers manager Ron Washington told his team’s official Web site. “We wanted to keep those guys at bay. We did what we do best, and that’s put runs on the board and put runs on the board late.”
Kason Gabbard (1-1, 4.34) benefited from one such game in his last start. The left-hander allowed six runs in just 2 2-3 innings at Cleveland Friday, but his offense bailed him out in a 13-9 victory. Gabbard has now given up 11 runs in just 7 2-3 innings in his last two starts.
He’ll try to help the Rangers avoid their first series loss since they were swept in three games at Detroit from April 22-24.
It’s been even longer since the Rays have dropped a series at home, as they’ve won five straight sets in Florida since losing two of three to the Chicago White Sox from April 18-20.