NEW YORK -- When Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton went just 2-for-18 in the American League Division Series, it was easy to blame the two broken ribs that kept him out of action for most of September.But Hamilton insisted he was fine, and through the first three games of the AL Championship Series, he's looked much more like the Most Valuable Player candidate he became this season. Hamilton flashed those MVP-caliber skills in Game 3 on Monday, hitting a two-run homer in the first inning and sparking a six-run rally in the ninth with a leadoff double to help lead the Rangers to an 8-0 victory over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. It's been a big series for Hamilton so far, as he's batting .300 (3-for-10) with five walks, three stolen bases and two home runs to help pace a Rangers offense that has scored 20 runs over the first three games of the series. And now Hamilton's injured ribs are looking more and more like a thing of the past.
"Nobody's 100 percent at this point in the year," Hamilton said. "So, I'm not really thinking about them. I mean, really the only thing that bothers me is a swing and miss, and I try not to do that."His ribs certainly weren't an issue in the first inning against Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, who allowed a single to Michael Young before hanging a 2-1 cutter over the plate that Hamilton deposited over the right-field fence for a two-run homer. "I was surprised the first one went out," Hamilton admitted. "But the thing about the first one is that I got the barrel on the ball, even though I was fooled and I kind of got in front of it." Pettitte saw the same thing, as Hamilton did just enough to get the ball over the short porch in right field. "I was trying to go away with a cutter and I left it inner-half," Pettitte said. "And I mean, he just dropped the head on it. He didn't even hit it that good, caught it out front. And if you catch a ball and hit it on the barrel at this stadium, it's a home run, unfortunately." The two-run shot also turned out to be plenty for Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee, who dominated the Yankees for eight innings, allowing just two hits while striking out 13 and walking one. Those early runs helped his confidence, as the Rangers took the lead before he ever took the mound. "Any time you can score early like that and get a two-run lead in the first, it definitely makes things easier on the starting pitcher," Lee said. "I happen to be the guy that benefited from that today." It wasn't a new occurrence for Hamilton and the Rangers, as he did the same thing in Game 1, when he hit a three-run homer in the first inning in a heartbreaking loss back in Texas. Hamilton nearly hit another homer in the sixth inning against Pettitte when he just got under a fastball that was caught at the warning track by right fielder Nick Swisher. It's been a sign that he's back in his groove and Rangers manager Ron Washington couldn't be any happier about it. "You saw what he does," Washington said. "It's very important, and maybe up until this point, maybe he and Vlad [Guerrero] had not done much. You might contain them, but you can't stop them. Tonight, Hamilton put us on the board early." Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler trusts the numbers Hamilton put up this season, when he hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs, rather than worrying about his ALDS performance. "That's 18 at-bats, so it's a very small window compared to 500-something at-bats over what he had the entire season," Kinsler said. "He walked four times at our place, and he's doing what it takes to help our team win -- like stealing bases. There's a lot more things you can do other than hit, but tonight he was able to bring home a couple on one swing. So that's what we expect about of him." Either way, Hamilton's teammates remain in awe of him because he can do just about anything on the baseball field. "He's got so much strength," outfielder Jeff Francouer said. "You saw the ball hit the end of the bat and it still goes out of the stadium 10 rows up. It's just fun to watch him. He's a heck of a ballplayer. "I've never seen anyone like him, because there are so many things he can do to change the outcome of a game."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.