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Hamilton's homer tees up Angels' stunner

Aybar's walk-off single completes ninth-inning rally vs. Cards

ANAHEIM -- Josh Hamilton picked his head up from an on-field interview and couldn't help but smile. A spirited Angel Stadium, filled with 42,707 fans on a perfect Fourth of July night, was rocking like it hadn't in quite some time. And for a brief moment -- after hitting the two-run homer that tied the game in the ninth, then watching Erick Aybar finish off the Cardinals with a two-out, walk-off single a few minutes later -- Hamilton admired a scene he hadn't experienced since leaving the Rangers.

It had been a tough year for the mercurial slugger -- from anti-Texas comments to chewing-tobacco intrigue to everlasting slumps -- but finally, he had his moment. And now, the same fans who moaned and groaned as he continually struggled to find himself were cheering for their new right fielder like never before.

Josh Hamilton had arrived in Anaheim.

"It is about what have you done for me lately, no matter what," Hamilton said after a thrilling, 6-5 win he helped create on Thursday night. "I haven't done a whole lot, but I felt good this last road trip, coming back home, having good at-bats. In that situation, to do that and have them respond like that, it's just a good feeling."

Down two in the bottom of the ninth, and in danger of losing a series against the Cardinals, the Angels had the middle of the order up against an effective Adam Wainwright, who had retired nine of his last 10 batters and was on his way to a complete game.

Albert Pujols led off with a single to left, his first in 11 at-bats against his former team and only his third in his last 31.

Hamilton then found himself facing Cardinals closer Edward Mujica, whom he had seen only four times in his career but knew what he'd offer him: a steady diet of split-changeups. The first was a bit low. The second was out over the plate, and Hamilton squared it up, lofting a long fly ball to straightaway center field that landed in the bushes. His 11th home run of the season -- and first since June 17 -- gave him the latest game-tying homer of his career.

"It felt great," Hamilton said. "I didn't try to do too much with it. I didn't try to yank it or anything like that. I just hit it back up the middle. It's just a good feeling, man, when you hear that sound come off your bat. Most of the time, you know. So I figured it had a good chance when I hit it."

Howie Kendrick followed with a single up the middle, and Mark Trumbo, who earlier hit a rocket homer to right-center field, dropped a base hit to shallow left, putting runners in the corners with none out. With the infield in, Alberto Callaspo and Hank Conger hit shallow popups that couldn't bring Kendrick in.

But Aybar got a 2-1 split-changeup on the outside corner -- the fourth in a row he'd seen -- and lined it to left field for a base hit, bringing in the winning run, giving the Angels seven victories in their last eight games and putting them back to three games below .500.

At that point, his only task was to dodge the teammates who were coming after him from the dugout -- and it was a hobbled Pujols leading the charge.

"You always want to get the hit to help your team win," Aybar said in Spanish after the Angels' fourth walk-off win. "That's what we've been doing a lot of lately. We played a great game today and we've continued to come together. And I think you're seeing the change right now."

Mujica went into the night 21-for-21 in save opportunities and hadn't shaken off catcher Yadier Molina all year. He shook him off twice in Thursday night's ninth inning, on Hamilton's homer and Aybar's single.

"That's a mistake I can't make anymore," Mujica said, his Cardinals 50-34 after finishing their road trip 3-5. "From now on, I'm just going with Yadi."

This probably tied the eight-run comeback against Felix Hernandez on June 20 for the biggest win of the Angels' sluggish season.

It came about thanks to Hamilton's biggest moment in Southern California.

He had been showing signs of getting hot lately, going 11-for-27 over the course of an eight-game hitting streak. But that was only an improvement. It still wasn't him. The .225/.286/.351 slash line he carried into Independence Day was still befuddling, and he was still searching for vintage form.

Pujols knows the feeling.

"This is a long season," Pujols said, his batting average at .244. "I went through it last year, I'm going through it again this year. You stay positive, man. People don't understand what you go through every day and how hard it is because they don't get to see you every day. ... We know this is a long season, and good players like him, they find a way to figure it out. At the end of the season, I think his numbers are going to be there. As long as he stays simple -- and myself, too -- and not try to be a hero."

For one night, though, Hamilton was.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.
Read More: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Joe Blanton, Mark Trumbo, Erick Aybar, Josh Hamilton