'Billy! Billy!' Speedster's heroics secure G2

May 30th, 2021

jumped on a fastball and came sprinting out of the batter’s box, leaving his helmet in the dust before reaching first base. He’d put a good swing on the pitch and was trying to dig for third.

To his surprise, the ball sailed over the wall at Guaranteed Rate Field for his first home run of the season. Even when he realized it -- right around second base -- he hardly slowed down on his way home.

“He’s gonna have to slow his home run trot down,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “That’s just way too fast.”

“I told Tony, ‘Listen, if that ball had dropped, I was at least gonna be on third, for sure,’” Hamilton explained. “Like I said, I don’t hit home runs. There’s no way I knew that ball was out.”

The unexpected solo shot was his first home run of the year, and it put the White Sox on the board in a 3-1 win over the Orioles to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader. After a 7-4 victory in Game 1, Chicago has now swept three of its four doubleheaders (splitting the other), and the American League Central leader is 11 games above .500 for the first time this season.

Prior to Hamilton’s homer, neither side had been able to scratch a run off Chicago’s Lance Lynn or Baltimore’s John Means. The two starters entered the day ranked second and fourth, respectively, in AL ERA among pitchers with at least 40 innings thrown (Lynn with a 1.51 ERA, Means with a 1.79 ERA).

The White Sox threatened twice against Means in the early innings, stranding the bases loaded in the first and stranding a pair of runners in the third. Then, facing a 2-2 count with two outs in the fourth, Hamilton drilled a low inside fastball to the left-field seats.

Hamilton’s eyes widened once he knew the ball was out. And back in the dugout, the whole team buzzed with excitement. La Russa joked that he’d “love to get a copy” of the footage of his team celebrating the homer.

“I’ve actually never seen the dugout more excited, to be honest with you,” Lynn said. “Everybody was pretty jacked.”

Back in the field the following inning, Hamilton was serenaded with chants of, “Bill-y! Bill-y!” by an adoring home crowd. And he wasn’t done giving them reasons to cheer.

In the sixth inning, the White Sox were on the wrong side of a no-outs, bases-loaded situation while clinging to a three-run lead. Orioles third baseman Maikel Franco scorched a ball to center, with an expected batting average of .890 (according to Statcast), and Hamilton made a diving catch to freeze the runners. Baltimore pushed one run across that inning, but it could’ve been much more if not for the speed and savvy of the veteran Hamilton.

“Billy’s always out there making big plays for us,” said reliever Codi Heuer, who escaped the threat. “He’s an easy guy to root for, man. He puts in so much work, he’s a great teammate and he plays his ass off out there. I loved to see it.”

Hamilton, a second-round pick by the Reds in 2009, is no longer the everyday player he was in Cincinnati. But he’s just as hungry to produce for his team, casting individual stats aside in the process.

Prior to Saturday’s doubleheader, he was chatting up Orioles hitting coach Don Long, who used to coach him with the Reds from 2014-18. Hamilton explained to Long that instead of “chasing a [batting] average,” he’s just looking for ways to help the White Sox win.

“I’m not worried about average,” said Hamilton, who’s batting .208 in 53 at-bats. “I could be hitting whatever. But what can I do to help my team out that day is my main focus. And that’s bringing my confidence in the box to be able to do things like that.”

You know, things like go-ahead homers and clutch diving catches. The types of things that round out a strong White Sox lineup, and have them hunting for a four-game sweep on Sunday.