The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #12: Josh Hamilton has a relapse and winds up back in Texas

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Josh Hamilton signed a big contract with the Angels prior to the 2013 season. In his two tours of duty with the club, however, he wasn’t worth the money, hitting .255/.316/.426 in two seasons in Anaheim. At the end of 2014 he was hurt and in early February he underwent shoulder surgery. It seemed that, in 2015, the Angels and Josh Hamilton were in for more of the same not-so-great news.

Oh, if it were only that simple.

In late February, it was reported that Hamilton had been summoned to New York City to meet with Major League Baseball officials concerning a “disciplinary issue.” There was immediate speculation that it probably had something to do with Hamilton’s well-documented battle with drug addiction. Sadly, that was the case. Hamilton self-reported a relapse from over the winter involving alcohol and cocaine.

While the immediate questions surrounded whether or not Hamilton would be disciplined under Major League Baseball’s substance abuse policy, he ultimately faced no discipline from the league. The Angels, however, launched an all-out assault on their outfielder, almost certainly leaking the fact of Hamilton’s drug relapse and the disciplinary hearing against him to the media in contravention of MLB’s rules and offering multiple public comments about Hamilton, most of them negative, suggesting that Hamilton had little or no value as a player. In their words and their actions — they barred him from the Angels’ spring training facility and removed his name from his locker — they made it clear that, in their eyes, Hamilton was the sort of person they didn’t want near their club, let alone on it. All of this was exactly what an addict’s presumed support system SHOULD NOT be doing under such circumstances.

As all of that was happening, Hamilton was doing his best to get back into baseball shape. And, according to sources close to Hamilton, he was fully recovered from his shoulder problems and ready for action even while the Angels were painting him as the most damaged of goods. It was clear by late March that the relationship between Hamilton and the Angels would never be repaired. By late April the Angels agreed to trade Hamilton back to this old team, the Texas Rangers, for almost nothing. And they picked up most of his salary as well. Funny how trashing your player for two months eliminates all of your negotiating leverage.

Hamilton’s return to Texas wasn’t the stuff of fairytales. While he returned to maintaining his sobriety, he remained a fragile ballplayer, battling numerous injuries which limited him to 50 games on the year. His overall line — .253/.291/.441 — was the worst of his nine-year major league career.

Still, the regular season ended on a bit of a bright note for Hamilton. On October 1, Hamilton and the Rangers played the Angels in the season’s 159th game. That night Hamilton made a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch in the second inning to save at least one run and maybe several more. At the plate he hit a double in the second inning and later knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly as the Rangers won 5-3. That win clinched a playoff spot for Texas.

The Angels? They finished one game out of the Wild Card and were forced to watch Hamilton and the Rangers in the playoffs on TV.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.