Josh Hamilton: expecting boos in his return to Texas, will certainly get them

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UPDATE: Hamilton came up to boos, but nothing incredible. Then Hamilton struck out on four pitches and the crowd exploded with cheers, way louder than the boos.  I assume that this drama is over.  That is, unless Hamilton himself adds to it.  Which it seems like he’s doing. Here’s what he had to say after the game:

“I’m glad I could help create spirit and fire in this town. This was louder than any playoff game that I’ve ever been to.”

This is getting good.

12:30 PM: If there is anyone who doesn’t think that Josh Hamilton is going to be booed — and booed lustily — when he comes to bat in today’s Angles-Rangers game they’re crazy. It may be the most ferocious booing we’ve heard for a player since Barry Bonds retired. Or since J.D. Drew made his first trip to Philadelphia. What we have here is the perfect storm of booing: a fan base that hates the player and a player who doesn’t seem to care a lick about that.  It’s actually kinda glorious if you think about it. The closest baseball will ever come to professional wrestling.

For those unaware of the back story, Josh Hamilton spent five season playing for the Texas Rangers. In those five season he played in 647 games, hit 142 home runs, drove in 506 and posted a batting average of .305. He also collected an MVP award and was the best hitter on a Rangers team which made it to two straight World Series. Then, this offseason, he hit free agency and signed with the division rival Los Angeles Angels for five years and $125 million.

That was business, though. Lots of players have left the Rangers via free agency and have not drawn the ire of fans. Indeed, given his age, injury history, his history with substance and his reported contract demands, most folks didn’t think Hamilton would stay in Texas anyway. The front office certainly didn’t make a push to keep him.  Between that and all of the good times he brought to Rangers fans, you’d think there would be enough to sustain at least some affection between Hamilton and the fan base despite his now playing for a rival. But no, there’s none.

The love affair was clearly over before Hamilton left town, actually. Rangers fans began booing Hamilton late last year as he struggled mightily down the stretch. A stretch in which the Rangers blew a five game division lead with nine games left to play. In the final, division-losing game to the Athletics, Hamilton dropped a routine fly ball which contributed to the collapse. Including the Rangers’ wild card loss to the Orioles, Hamilton struck out 20 times in his last 46 at-bats. Four strikeouts came in the wild card game. Warranted or not, Rangers fans equated Hamilton’s poor play with a poor attitude and believe Hamilton quit on his team.

That alone would likely lead to boos upon his return today, but he really set everyone off back in February when he told a Dallas radio station that Dallas was not a baseball town:

“Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town. They’re supportive, but they also got a little spoiled at the same time, pretty quickly. You think about three to four years ago. It’s like, come on man, are you happier there again?”

Thing is, Hamilton is probably right about that. The Cowboys will always be king in Dallas and Rangers fans, like a lot of fans of teams who experience sustained success, probably have gotten a bit spoiled. But being technically right and saying the right thing are not the same thing, and the blowback Hamilton has received since making those statements has been pretty significant.  But Hamilton is not backing down either. Indeed, just this morning he said this to Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

“The truth is the truth. And that was the truth. I don’t regret anything I said … If they booed me when I played there why wouldn’t they boo me now?”

They will boo him now. With extreme gusto.  And, while it may be a bit uncomfortable for Hamilton, it’ll definitely add spice to an Angels-Rangers rivalry that is already a whole heck of a lot of fun.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).