The 9-2 Texas Rangers hit a bump in the road yesterday, following the news that their All-Star left fielder Josh Hamilton would be spending the next six to eight weeks on the disabled list with a broken arm.
The Rangers are doing their own version of Sherman's March to the Sea, except they're doing it through the American League.
Quite frankly, there's no team playing better baseball right now than the Rangers. Through their first 11 games of the season, the Rangers have outscored their opponents 64-31, and they're tops in the majors in team ERA (2.49).
They can pretty much do everything necessary to win a ballgame.
They're even better than the 2010 version, prompting most Rangers fans to wonder, "Cliff Lee who?"
Now, however, they'll have to deal with having their biggest offensive weapon sitting out for the next two months.
Hamilton's injury occurred in the first inning of yesterday's game against the Detroit Tigers. Hamilton tripled to deep-right center, scoring Michael Young. Adrian Beltre then came and popped up to the left side of the infield in foul territory.
Third baseman Brandon Inge and catcher Victor Martinez both moved over to make the catch. Noticing no one was covering home plate, Rangers third base coach Dave Anderson sent Hamilton home after the catch was made.
Martinez raced to the plate to cut off Hamilton and was able to field the throw from Inge, tagging out Hamilton as he tried to slide in head first.
Hamilton walked away from the plate holding his right arm behind his back. He later felt pain in his arm while swinging a bat and left the game to have an MRI, which revealed a non-displaced fracture just below his shoulder.
"It was just a stupid play," Hamilton told Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. "I definitely shouldn't have done it."
"I listened to my third-base coach," Hamilton said. "That's a little too aggressive. The whole time I was watching the play I was listening. [He said] 'Nobody's at home, nobody's at home.' I was like, 'Dude, I don't want to do this. Something's going to happen.' But I listened to my coach. And how do you avoid a tag the best? By going in headfirst and get out of the way and get in there. That's what I did."
It's safe to say Hamilton isn't particularly happy with both Anderson's decision to send him home and the resulting injury.
After the game, Anderson said it was a play he would have tried with any of the team's speed guys. It was an aggressive play and the Rangers are an aggressive team; nobody should really be surprised by Anderson's choice.
Should he perhaps have used a bit of caution considering it was Hamilton? No. It's baseball. Hamilton is a baseball player, and Anderson is a coach. Hamilton did the right thing in listening to his coach, but it's how he slid into home plate that's the issue.
It's not uncommon for players to slide head first into home plate, attempting to avoid a tag. Some players will even try sliding into first base head first.
However, sliding in head first actually slows you down. The time it takes to leave your feet and stretch out is longer than it would to drop down and go in feet first. Not to mention air resistance and how much speed you lose when you hit the ground—you know, all that scientific stuff.
Take two runners, have them race home, and I guarantee you the player who slides feet first will get in first.
Sliding in that way isn't the best way to avoid a tag, as Hamilton said. It's easier to tag a runner who's off the ground than it is when they're lower, like when sliding in feet first.
After the game, Anderson said he would have preferred Hamilton not to go in head first.
"I always want him to slide feet first, no matter what he does," Anderson told Durrett. "You play this game long enough, and I've gone through it too, sliding headfirst, and have had some injuries. Sometimes you can't help it, your instinct just tells you to dive and try to get there. But most of the time you try to go feet first if you can to try to stay away from injuries."
He's absolutely right.
Aside from the fact that it doesn't get you there any faster, sliding in head first is also the more dangerous option. And Hamilton paid the price.
It was a dangerous play, but not because Anderson sent Hamilton home. Even Rangers general manager Jon Daniels agreed with Anderson's decision.
"I have absolutely no issue with Dave sending him," Daniels said. "We play an aggressive style of baseball. We run. We take the extra base. The chances of getting hurt on that play are minimal. I've encouraged Dave to keep being aggressive."
Hamilton is a big part of the team, both in the field and at the plate. Hamilton was batting .333 with seven RBI and a team-high .409 OBP.
With Hamilton on the DL, David Murphy will start in left field, and the Rangers have called up Chris Davis from Triple-A Round Rock to fill the roster spot.
Make no mistake—this is a big blow to the Rangers offense. However, they've had to deal with Hamilton on the DL before and have been able to overcome. Last season, Hamilton hit the DL three separate times, including a stint in September when he broke some ribs crashing into the wall at Target Field in Minnesota.
It's a big loss, but Hamilton's statements regarding the play aren't correct. He's wrong to basically blame the play on his coach. It's just one of "those plays." Injuries are going to happen; Hamilton has spent enough time on the DL in his career to know that.
It's not Hamilton's fault, though he shouldn't have gone in head first, but it's not Anderson's fault, either. It's nobody's fault, really. Hearing something like that from Hamilton instead of throwing his coach under the bus might have sounded a little better.
For now, Hamilton will have to take his time and heal so he can come back and help his team win some ball games. But, perhaps he could point blame somewhere else.
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