PHOENIX (AP)—Cincinnati outfielder Josh Hamilton took a long road to the major leagues, sitting out for three seasons as he struggled with cocaine addiction.
He’s making the most of his long-awaited opportunity. Hamilton homered for the second straight game Wednesday night, leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 3-2 victory over Arizona.
“It’s still hard for me to describe how fun it is to be here,” said Hamilton, who also doubled to start a rally. “I mean, I’m just so happy to have an opportunity. I feel so blessed to be here.”
Hamilton’s solo home run off Arizona reliever Brandon Medders gave Cincinnati a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning. It turned out to be the insurance run the Reds needed when the Diamondbacks rallied for a run in the ninth on Chad Tracy’s two-out double. Reds closer David Weathers got Conor Jackson to ground out to short for his third save in three chances.
The Reds snapped a three-game losing streak and salvaged the final game of a three-game series between early season division leaders.
“That was big for the club right now,” said Reds starting pitcher Matt Belisle (2-0), who allowed one run on three hits in six innings, walking one and striking out three.
Arizona snapped a six-game win streak, but at 7-3 the Diamondbacks have matched the fastest 10-game start in the franchise’s 10-year history.
“They just outplayed us by a little bit,” said Arizona manager Bob Melvin, whose team rallied to win the first two games against the Reds. “But we battled back again and put ourselves in position to tie the game right there (in the ninth). We just came up a little short.”
Arizona starter Micah Owings (1-1) was looking for his second victory in as many big league starts. Owings won his debut April 6 at Washington, shutting out the Nationals on one hit over five innings. He was every bit as dominant for six innings against Cincinnati, limiting the Reds to four hits and allowing only two baserunners to advance as far as second base.
Hamilton struck out and grounded out in his first two at-bats against Owings.
“I was like, ‘What in the world is he throwing? I can’t hit that,’ ” Hamilton said.
Hamilton finally caught up in his third at-bat, in the seventh inning. With the Reds trailing 1-0, he led off with a double and took third on Alex Gonzalez’ single. Pinch-hitter Javier Valentin cleared the bases with a double.
“Javy’s one of the best pinch-hitters in baseball,” Cincinnati manager Jerry Narron said.
That gave the Reds a 2-1 lead. One inning later, Hamilton made it 3-1 when he drove an 0-1 fastball from Medders 366 feet into the left field seats.
Hamilton, who was out of baseball from 2003-05, also homered on Tuesday night for his first big-league hit.
Hamilton wasn’t sure the line drive off Medders would clear the fence, so he didn’t stop sprinting until he saw the umpire’s signal.
“I got around the bases pretty quick,” Hamilton said. “That’s the way I do. I don’t take it for granted.”
After Hamilton’s first homer, his teammates jokingly ignored him when he returned to the dugout. He found a different reception when he got back to the bench on Wednesday night.
“It was all high fives,” he said.
Valentin said teammates are happy for Hamilton, who is popular in the clubhouse. “Right now, he looks like he feels comfortable here,” Valentin said. “Hopefully, he can keep doing what he’s been doing.”
The Reds didn’t know what to expect from Hamilton when they purchased his contract from the Chicago Cubs last Dec. 7. But he earned a spot on the roster by hitting .403 in spring training, and now he’s forcing Narron to find a spot for him in the lineup.
Asked if Hamilton would play when the Reds open a three-game series at Chicago Friday, Narron chuckled and said, “Josh has got a good chance of playing somewhere. We’ve got to get him on the field. The spring he had and the at-bats he’s having right now, he looks like he belongs here.”
Narron said he removed 3B Edwin Encarnacion from the lineup after one inning because Encarnacion did not run out a pop fly. Juan Castro replaced Encarnacion. … Hall of Famer Dave Winfield threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Winfield is scheduled to narrate the Phoenix Symphony’s “Out to the Ballgame” concert Thursday night at Symphony Hall.