Angels shortstop Erick Aybar reacts after watching his line drive to left… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
Erick Aybar raised his fist to the sky as he hit first base. The game was over, and the Angels had won, but Aybar raced all the way to second base, in an unsuccessful attempt to dodge the onrushing mass of teammates.
On most nights, this would be a story about Aybar. On this night, with this team, this is a story about Josh Hamilton.
Aybar's walk-off single capped a three-run rally in the ninth inning Thursday, giving the Angels a 6-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Angels won for the eighth time in nine games, and for the second time in 40 tries this season when trailing after eight innings.
The big hit, about which a packed house went home buzzing, was the home run that tied the score in the ninth, a two-run bomb beyond the deepest fence at Angel Stadium. Hamilton hit it, and a crowd that has ranged from indifferent to hostile to him for most of the season stood to embrace him.
"It couldn't have happened on a better day," Hamilton said. "Excite the crowd a little bit on the Fourth of July. They got a little more fireworks, a little more bang for their buck, than they thought they were going to get."
The Angels trailed the Cardinals 5-3 after eight innings, with Adam Wainwright three outs from his fifth complete game this season. Albert Pujols, who had been 0 for 10 in his reunion series with the Cardinals and four for his last 44 overall, singled to start the ninth.
Pujols insisted he was neither relieved nor delighted to get the one hit against his old mates.
"It's not about St. Louis," he said. "You guys keep making this about St. Louis. It's not about St. Louis and me. At the end of the day, we won the series. It's not one player versus one team."
Wainwright has thrown as many as 120 pitches this season. Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny pulled him after 104, calling on closer Edward Mujica to face Hamilton. Mujica had converted all 21 save opportunities this year.
"I'm glad I didn't have that information," Hamilton said.
Hamilton took the first pitch for a ball, then hit the next pitch 411 feet, over the center-field fence, for the score-tying home run and for his finest moment as an Angel.
He basked in the applause as he circled the bases and extended a thank-you gesture to the fans during an on-field interview after the game. "It's all about, 'What have you done for me lately?'" Hamilton said. "I haven't done a whole lot."
Hamilton, in the first year of a five-year, $125-million contract, is batting .226 with 11 home runs. On the same date last year, he was batting .318 with 26 home runs, for the Texas Rangers.
"Obviously, if anybody needed this the most on this ballclub, it was him," Pujols said.
Hamilton's home run tied the score, 5-5. Howie Kendrick followed with a single, and so did Mark Trumbo.
But with the winning run at third base, Alberto Callaspo and Hank Conger each popped up. That left the clutch hitting to Aybar, whose third hit of the evening was the game-winner.
The fans were not the only ones buzzing about Hamilton. So were the guys inside the clubhouse.
"It's good to see him contribute the way he can," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We couldn't feel better for him."