Baseball Town's Revenge
Josh Hamilton gets booed and Rangers pitch hot in home-opening win
When Josh Hamilton returned to Arlington on April 4 for the Texas Rangers home opener, he was greeted with a sign that read, “Welcome back to our non-baseball town.”
You remember Hamilton, right? Former American League MVP. Former Rangers left fielder. Currently baseball’s version of the late Roger Ebert when it comes to critiquing baseball towns.
Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler hinted that the Rangers hosting the Angels for the home opener was planned by Major League Baseball. In truth, the schedule came out in September. So it was really blind, dumb luck.
The Rangers have used 11 pitchers so far this season, and eight of them haven’t allowed an earned run.
But MLB took full advantage. It, along with local station WFAA, live streamed Hamilton’s pre-game press conference with the local media three hours before the game. Hamilton — who infamously declared that this area wasn’t a “baseball town” during spring training — said he expected to be booed.
A fiery welcome
Hamilton was booed during pre-game introductions and at every at-bat — and rather lustily at that. The only audible cheers he received were when he struck out to Rangers starter Derek Holland. Both times. Hamilton went 0-for-4 and swung at times as if his eyes were still stuck.
“Honestly that was louder than any playoff game I’ve ever been to,” Hamilton said after the game.
Really? Any playoff game? I was at game 4 of the 2010 World Series, sitting in the stands, and I just about went deaf.
Truthfully, Hamilton didn’t say anything that we North Texans don’t already know. We know this is a football town. What hurt Rangers fans was that Hamilton’s words seemed to be him thumbing his nose at a fan base that supported him without condition for five years.
Hamilton was the story on Friday, at least until the Rangers stole this one on the field, thanks to some crafty late-inning baseball and a gem of an outing by starting pitcher Derek Holland.
Pitching takes care of everything
Holland's seven-inning effort was a beaut, as he gave up just six hits and two runs while striking out five and walking just one. Holland’s effort came two days after Alexi Ogando fanned 10 and walked one as he pitched into the seventh inning against the Astros.
Of course, Ogando’s effort came a day after Yu Darvish nearly threw a perfect game. Even Matt Harrison, the opening-day starter who took the season’s only loss so far, threw well, striking out nine.
In three games in Houston, the rotation fueled a MLB-record 45 strikeouts Holland added five on Friday. The Rangers have used 11 pitchers so far this season, and eight of them haven’t allowed an earned run. After years of instilling a Nolan Ryan-like attitude in the organization’s pitching program, it appears to be paying off.
Thanks to the schedule, the Rangers don’t have to use their fifth starter until the second time through the rotation, giving them a great opportunity to use their best pitchers twice in eight games and put some early distance between themselves and the Angels.
This Rangers team doesn’t look like the old Rangers teams of the 1990s. When they were winning the saying went, “[Aaron] Sele and [Rick] Helling and take the shelling,” a nod to the classic “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” It meant the team had two good, reliable pitchers, and the rest was a roll of the dice.
These Rangers look like they have four reliable starters; a fifth, Colby Lewis, could be back as early as mid-May.
If this initial burst of great pitching sustains, then keeping a player like Hamilton at $25 million per year would have been a luxury rather than a necessity, in hindsight.
And in baseball towns, you have to make those kinds of choices.