A week ago, Josh Hamilton probably would have popped up the belt-high inside changeup he got from Chicago White Sox left-hander John Danks in the eighth inning Wednesday night, or missed the pitch completely.
Instead, the Angels slugger turned on the pitch, sending it through a bone-chilling rain and over the right-field wall in U.S. Cellular Field for a game-tying solo home run, his second in as many nights.
The euphoria over the blast didn't last. The White Sox won in the ninth when pinch-hitter Leury Garcia, facing reliever Mike Morin, lined a one-out single to left, through a five-man infield, to give the White Sox a 3-2 walk-off victory, the Angels' 10th loss this season in their opponent's last at-bat.
But there were two encouraging developments for the Angels in the wake of a defeat that prevented them from gaining ground on the Oakland Athletics, who lead the American League West by 3 1/2 games.
One was the return of left-hander Tyler Skaggs, who came off the disabled list and, in his first start since June 5, gave up two runs and five hits in 7 2/3 innings, struck out six, walked one and threw 70 of his 87 pitches for strikes.
The other was the return of Hamilton's power stroke, which deserted the left fielder until he discovered a glitch in his approach that led to his monthlong drought without a homer. Hamilton hit his fourth homer of the season Tuesday night and his fifth on Wednesday.
"They usually come in bunches," Hamilton said. "I feel like I've turned a corner."
Hamilton, who averaged 27 homers a season from 2008 to 2013, underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb April 11, a procedure that sidelined him for two months.
He homered in his first game back June 3 and made consistent contact through last month, keeping his average above .300. But Hamilton slipped into a defensive posture at times in an effort to avoid aggravating his injury.
"I think I've been cutting off my swing a little bit, protecting my thumb from getting jammed, so I haven't stayed through balls like I want to," Hamilton said. "I was babying my thumb a little without even realizing it. I wasn't doing it on purpose."
Hamilton had an epiphany last weekend in Kansas City, when he popped out to third on an inside fastball "that I should have hammered," he said. "I looked at my swing path and compared it to the one before I hurt my thumb, and it was significantly different."
Manager Mike Scioscia seemed surprised by Hamilton's comments. Hamilton is not the force he was in 2010, when he hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 runs batted in to win AL most-valuable-player honors for Texas, or 2012, when he hit .285 with 43 homers and 128 RBIs for the Rangers.
But Hamilton is still hitting a fairly robust .313 with five homers, eight doubles, 21 RBIs, 44 strikeouts and 18 walks in 35 games after hitting a career-low .250 with 21 homers, 79 RBIs and 158 strikeouts in 2013, his first season with the Angels after signing a five-year, $125-million deal.
Hamilton is also hitting .405 (17 for 42) with three homers against left-handers this season, far better than his .201 mark against them in 2013.
"He knows his body better than we do, but I have not sensed that," Scioscia said. "I think his swing looks good, and he's been hitting the ball extremely well. There's no doubt he's more comfortable in the box."
Hamilton said he is "trying to retrain" himself to be aggressive and not worry about his thumb or getting jammed, but there was at least one benefit to his conservative approach.
"It stinks for hitting homers, but it gave me a little extra time to heal," he said. "It took a couple of weeks after I got back, but my thumb feels 100%."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times