ANAHEIM, Calif. — Josh Hamilton never came close to joining the Red Sox, even after an affable meeting with team brass at the Winter Meetings last December. It was just one of those mutual respect get-togethers because Hamilton has always enjoyed Boston.
Hamilton wasn’t the right fit for the Sox, who were committed to avoiding lengthy contracts. The Angels gave him a five-year deal at $25 million per season, and Hamilton got off to an absolutely horrible start.
He was not fully embraced here until Thursday night, when he delivered his biggest feat as an Angel, a game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Cardinals closer Edward Mujica, who had converted his first 21 save chances. The Angels went on to win, 6-5, and Hamilton was the darling for perhaps the first time this season.
And then the very next night, he dropped Jonny Gomes’s fly ball to right field after a long run, enabling Shane Victorino to score the go-ahead run for the Red Sox in the seventh. The Sox won, 6-2.
Hamilton hasn’t been able to get out of his own way this season. But he’ll take the glory of Thursday night.
“It couldn’t have happened on a better day,” Hamilton said. “Excite the crowd a little bit on the Fourth of July. They got a little more fireworks, a little more bang for their buck than they thought they were going to get.”
Forget the standing ovation he got Thursday. Hamilton hasn’t even heard much applause since becoming an Angel. That’s how bad it has been. Hamilton thanked fans for their support during the postgame interview.
“It’s all about, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ ” Hamilton said. “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.”
Hamilton entered Friday night’s series opener against the Sox hitting .226 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs. At this time a year ago he was hitting .318 with 26 home runs for the Texas Rangers.
“This is a long season,” said teammate Albert Pujols. “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.”
We all know the story of what Hamilton has had to overcome with drug and alcohol addictions that nearly cost him his life. He’s also had an addiction to smokeless tobacco, and those who have “dipped” for a long time will tell you it’s one of the hardest addictions to break.
Hamilton tried to quit smokeless tobacco late last season and he began to play poorly. Rangers president Nolan Ryan said Hamilton’s timing “couldn’t have been worse.”
Perhaps the upswing in his recent play means he’s back using smokeless tobacco. It’s only a theory, but the withdrawal symptoms can be awful. Former users have complained about the inability to focus or think straight. Hamilton said earlier this season he was having equilibrium issues. Did it all stem from withdrawal from tobacco?
Hamilton said he will not discuss the matter.
Hamilton did extend his hit streak to 10 games Friday. During a recent six-game road trip he hit .429 (9 for 21).
Entering Friday, Hamilton was a .320 hitter against the Red Sox (58 for 181) in his career with seven homers and 43 RBIs in 46 games.
“I only spent two months [with Texas], but I enjoyed him as a teammate,” said Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster. “I just saw him as a regular guy; very funny, loose in the clubhouse. He was well-liked. Obviously, an enormous talent.
“I’ll never forget the day he signed with Tampa Bay. We [the Florida Marlins] were playing Tampa Bay in an interleague game. He was out there hitting with Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff and people like that. He was just a kid and he was hitting farther than anyone. We all know what he’s gone through, but that talent has always remained. I know he slumped at the end of last season, but when he’s on, there’s five tools there. He can do it all.”
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, another ex-Ranger, feels the same way.
“It’s surprising to see him struggle for sure, because it just boggles your mind what he can do with a baseball bat and on the baseball field,” Saltalamacchia said.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia and owner Arte Moreno have been very patient with Hamilton, understanding the complexities you inherit with him on your team. There are things he needs that other players don’t, and one of them is the constant emphasis for him to do the right thing.
“It’s good to see him contribute the way he can,” Scioscia said. “We couldn’t feel better for him.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.