Josh Hamilton inflicts pain on Yankees

NEW YORK -- The warm, fuzzy feeling Josh Hamilton gave New Yorkers during the 2008 Home Run Derby is apparently long gone.

Yankees fans greeted Hamilton, who is far from a villain, with a hearty boo before his first postseason at-bat in the Bronx. He responded by giving them good reason to dislike him, pulling Andy Pettitte’s 2-1 cut fastball into the right-field seats for a two-run homer that provided all the support Cliff Lee needed during Game 3.

Lee’s spectacular performance was the story of the Rangers’ 8-0 win that gave them an edge over the defending World Series champion in the American League Championship Series. It took a pitching gem of historic proportions to overshadow the fact that Hamilton is playing like an MVP again.

“I don’t know when he wasn’t,” second baseman Ian Kinsler countered.

Well, the dude did go 2-for-18 without an extra-base hit in the ALDS, appearing to look every bit like a player dealing with pain and rust after missing 24 games with a couple of fractured ribs.

But Hamilton brushes off questions about his ribs these days. And he crushes pitches.

Hamilton’s numbers this series: 3-for-10 with a double, two homers, three runs, five RBI, five walks and three stolen bases. He might not be completely healthy, but he’s back to being a dominant force in the middle of the Rangers’ lineup.

“It’s amazing how you can adjust and adapt to injuries, things that are hurting you,” Hamilton said.”You can overcome them. So they are really not an issue at this point.”

Kinsler mentioned that Hamilton can do a lot more to impact the game than just hit. That’s true, but there are very few players who can hit like him.

In fact, you’ve got to go all the way back to Yankee legend Lou Gehrig in 1934 to find an American League player who produced a stat line like Hamilton’s this season. That’s how long it’s been since an AL player hit at least .359 with 40 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBI.

And it looks like Hamilton’s back in a groove again. Heck, you know things are going well when the guy guesses wrong on a pitch and still pulls it out of the park.

“I could lie and say I was looking for that pitch and just got the barrel on it,” said Hamilton, who also homered in the first inning of Game 1 and tied a postseason record by drawing four walks in Game 2. “I was not looking out for that pitch.”

Hamilton came about a foot away from homering off Pettitte again in the top of the sixth. But his most masterful piece of hitting so far this series might have been the double to lead off the ninth and begin the avalanche of insurance runs. On a full count, Hamilton took lefty reliever Boone Logan’s outside fastball the opposite way with a line drive to the left-center gap.

“When he took all those walks at home, I thought he finally got back,” Nelson Cruz said. “You saw that today.”

It certainly wasn’t a welcome sight for Yankees fans.