ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Josh Hamilton stepped into the batter’s box to a loud ovation. The Texas Rangers fans got even louder when he lined the first pitch he saw into the right-field corner for a double.
“It’ll be a game I’ll remember forever. Coming back and getting a warm reception like that, all through the game, people in the stands ‘Welcome back Josh, glad to have you back,'” Hamilton said. “It just makes you feel good. I hope the fans know that I’m giving them everything I’ve got being back, just like I did when I was here before.”
A month and a day after being re-acquired by the Rangers, Hamilton played his first home game in Texas since the 2012 AL wild-card game, one in which the soon-to-depart slugger was booed lustily — like he would be the next two seasons when returning with the Los Angeles Angels.
Hamilton finished 2 for 4 Thursday night, including an RBI single in the ninth — on another sharply hit ball to right — that accounted for the Rangers’ only run in a 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
“As long as he just keeps getting better and feeling comfortable, he’s going to do his thing,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “Same guy. He hasn’t changed at all. He’s been the same person since he got here Day One, and you can see in his eyes he just wants to play.”
The only thing that would have been better for Hamilton would have been a win, but Eduardo Rodriguez threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings to become the youngest Red Sox starter to win in his major league debut on the road since 1967.
Already the youngest Red Sox pitcher to make his MLB debut on the road since 21-year-old Roger Clemens in 1985, Rodriguez became the youngest since Billy Rohr was 21 when winning his debut at the New York Yankees on April 14, 1967.
“He was outstanding. Very impressive, he was poised,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell, whose team snapped a three-game losing streak.
Before the game, Hamilton said he always has good memories at the Rangers’ ballpark, and those started going through his mind when turning onto Ballpark Way earlier in the day.
This was his home from 2008-12, a stretch of five seasons when he was the 2010 AL MVP, an All-Star each year and helped the Rangers get to their only two World Series.
In his last home game for Texas, Hamilton twice struck out on three pitches and grounded into a double play in the wild-card loss to Baltimore. That came after 18 strikeouts in the last 10 regular-season games, and a dropped routine popup in the finale that allowed Oakland to go ahead to stay and clinch the division title that day.
Hamilton left in free agency to the Angels two months later, but struggled with injuries and performance during his two seasons on the West Coast.
Asked before the game if he felt he could still put up the kind of numbers he did in the past for the Rangers, Hamilton said the only way to find out was to go out and play. But, yes, he has confidence that he can.
“When you don’t get nervous when you go out there and play, whether first at-bat or you’re in the field for the first time again, if you’re not nervous, then you don’t need to do it,” he said. “I still have all those things. Yeah, I think I can do what I’ve done in the past.”
Hamilton hit .305 with 152 homers and 506 RBIs his previous five seasons as a Ranger. He led the AL with 130 RBIs in his 2008 Texas debut, led the majors with .359 average in 2010 and had a career-high 43 homers in 2012.
The Angels traded Hamilton back to Texas on April 27. After an offseason when he had shoulder surgery and a self-reported relapse with cocaine and alcohol, the slugger went to Arizona for extended spring training before 12 games split between Triple-A Round Rock and Double-A Frisco.
“Over this last month, it’s just been fun in general,” Hamilton said. “It’s been fun for me to see all aspects of it. You know you appreciate it.
“Anytime you go through those levels like that, you can appreciate it even more. … It’s gone well. Physically feel good, mentally feel even better.”