Josh Hamilton had never hit three home runs in the same game before tonight, the thought crossing his mind after No. 2 cleared the fence.
He had no idea what was coming next.
Hamilton became the 16th player in major league history to hit four homers in the same game.
“Obviously it’s, other than being in the World Series, the highlight of my big league career,” he said. “I was saying after I hit two that I’ve never hit three in a game before, and what a blessing that was. And then to hit four is just an awesome feeling to see how excited my teammates got. It reminds you of when you’re in Little League and a little kid, and just the excitement and why we play the game. Things like that. You never know what can happen and it was just an absolute blessing.
“As a player, you don’t go out and try to do stuff like that, and it might not ever happen. You play the game hard, you try to do the best you can and if you happen to break a record, that’s great. But you don’t set out there and try to do that as a player. You set out to try to be the best player you can be, not only for you but for your teammates.”
Hamilton took early batting practice yesterday and wasn’t happy with the results. But something clicked later, which was bad news for the Orioles.
“As the batting practice went on, I got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, and usually what you do in batting practice carries over in the game,” he said. “Yesterday, the first few at-bats, I was big, trying the same swing, trying to get the ball far, hit the ball far. Finally, that last at-bat, I went in and looked at some video and said, ‘You know what, I’ve just got to try to make contact, put a good swing on it, stay small.’
“Today, we didn’t have the luxury of hitting on the field because of the rain. I went in the batting cage, did my work, so I didn’t see where balls were going, and I think it helped a lot. I stayed small, I stayed short. I didn’t try to get too big and hit the ball far. I just tried to make solid contact where it was pitched and that’s what I did. It didn’t matter what the count was. I felt like I was taking balls good tonight. Yesterday, I felt better before the game than I did today, so like I always like to say, you don’t know unless you play. You might feel good and might have a bad game, or you might feel terrible and have a good game. You just never know.”
Hamilton wasn’t thinking about hitting a fourth home run when he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning.
“No. I prepared like any other at-bat,” he said. “I spent some time obviously behind (Darren) O’Day when he was with us, in the outfield. I’ve seen him throw the ball, check the scouting report -- fastball, slider. And I just went up like it was any other at-bat, because if I don’t hit one, I’ve still had a really good night.”
Hamilton was still trying to comprehend being the 16th person to have a four-homer night. Maybe it’ll sink in tomorrow, or on the flight out of Baltimore.
“It’s like anything else, you do something good or something incredible happens, it takes a little bit for it to sink in,” he said. “I think when I get away from everybody and I have some time to myself, I think it might then. All I can say is it’s an absolute blessing from above to be sitting up here and talking to you about this, to be in some good company. It’s just awesome.
“I think about what God’s done in my life, everything I did to mess it up, to finally surrender everything and pursue that relationship with Christ on a daily basis and understanding when I don’t pursue it, I end up messing up. It’s got to be in the forefront, in the forefront of being a good dad, husband, all of those things. A good teammate. That’s where I focus on and knowing that I play for an audience of one, and that’s Jesus Christ, and taking the good with the bad.”
The Camden Yards crowd gave Hamilton a standing ovation as he rounded the bases and headed to the dugout after his fourth homer. He already heard the cheers as he stepped to the plate, before taking another big swing.
“When I came out after the fourth one, the crowd and appreciation let’s you know that they’re true baseball fans,” he said. “They’re not only fans of their own team, but they love the game and appreciate it when somebody does something of that caliber. And it’s a special feeling. You’re running out in the opposing stadium and the crowd is just appreciating how you play the game and what you’ve done.”
Jake Arrieta surrendered two of Hamilton’s four home runs. Zach Phillips and O’Day each served up one.
Hamilton connected off a right-hander, a left-hander and a side-armer. He drove three balls to center field and one to left. He was unstoppable.
“It was the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Arrieta said. “Very special hitter. You know, he’s the kind of guy who really likes to jump on the first pitch and we know that as a staff. I think it was just we did him a favor by throwing him too many hittable pitches first-pitch. He didn’t miss tonight.
“You’ve got to tip your cap to him, but we’ve got to do a better job - me especially - making better pitches early in the count to him.
Arrieta said he tried to make an adjustment after Hamilton’s first home run.
“The second one, I tried to come in on him twice, missed a little off the plate, up out of the zone,” he said. “Then I went to the sinker down and away and a good running fastball and he’s strong enough to put the good part of the bat on it and hit it to the opposite field. He’s swinging the bat very well tonight. He’s pretty much done that all season. Like I said, we got to make better pitches to him.”
The Rangers are a team that will make you pay for every mistake. And the first one tonight came in the first inning when Arrieta walked Elvis Andrus before Hamilton homered.
Andrus has scored on all five of Hamilton’s two-run homers in this series.
“I think it all starts there in the first inning,” Arrieta said. “You can’t put Andrus on right in front of Hamilton. If he’s going to hit a home run, it needs to be a solo home run there. We’ve got to limit the damage when he’s at the plate, especially with guys on base. They’ve got a lot of great hitters in their lineup, so when you make mistakes - especially behind in the count - they’re going to put good swings on the ball. Just got to do a better job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down.”
O’Day got ahead of Hamilton, 0-2, before allowing the fourth home run.
“Me, personally, I can say that was the worst pitch of my career,” he said. “Guy’s already got three bombs and I had him 0-2 and I throw it right over the middle. I couldn’t have soft-tossed it any better to him. I’d like that pitch back for sure. You can’t say enough about the day he had. He’s one of the top hitters in the big leagues. He’s going to have good days and bad days and he had a good day today.
“They’re a good lineup. They’re good top to bottom, but I still think if you make your pitches, you’re going to get outs. We’ve just got to make more pitches against them.”
It wouldn’t hurt to mix in an intentional walk once in a while.