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Josh Hamilton One Big October Moment Away from Turning Confidence, Career Around

Josh Hamilton avoided history on Sunday, and he'll sleep better because of it.

With a base hit in the fifth inning of the Texas Rangers' 5-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, Hamilton snapped a 31-at-bat postseason hitless streak that dated back to 2011.

Before Sunday's knock, Hamilton was threatening the all-time record for playoff futility, set by the Seattle Mariners' Dan Wilson, who came up empty in 42 consecutive postseason at-bats between 1995 and 2000, as MLB.com's Jason Beck noted:

Hamilton added another hit in the seventh, part of a rally that plated the Rangers' only run.

In the end, Texas, which won the first two games of this ALDS north of the border, missed a chance to step on the favored Blue Jays' throats. Now, Monday's Game 4the final game of the series that will be played in Arlingtonbecomes huge for the Rangers.

In a different way, it's huge for Hamilton, who is still struggling to resurrect his career in the place where it all began. He could go a long way toward doing exactly that with one signature playoff moment.

Backing up a bit: Yes, technically Hamilton made his big league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, but his best years came in a Rangers uniform. 

Texas is where he made five straight All-Star appearances, won an American League MVP Award in 2010 and powered the Rangers to two consecutive World Series appearances.

Hamilton parlayed his Lone Star State output into a five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels prior to the 2013 season. And he tossed a match on the bridge as he made his exit, dubbing Arlington "not a true baseball town," per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

So a Rangers reunion seemed borderline absurd, especially as Hamilton's production dipped in 2013 and cratered in 2014, when the now 34-year-old missed nearly half of the season to injury and went hitless in a division series defeat against the Kansas City Royals.

In early February, Hamilton underwent shoulder surgery. Then, a few weeks later, he admitted he'd "suffered a relapse in his battle with substance abuse," as Mike DiGiovanna and Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times put it. 

Two months later, Texas reacquired its wayward son in a surprising deal that mostly involved cash (flowing from L.A. to Texas) and a lot of hastily mended fences.

Hamilton made his Rangers return on May 25, and on May 29, he teased the faithful with a two-home run game. Overall, however, he posted a sluggish .253/.291/.441 slash line and looked more like a faded has-been than a viable reclamation project.

Meanwhile, the Rangers, who were sitting under .500 at the trade deadline, went out and acquired ace Cole Hamels and streaked to an AL West title behind a resurgent veteran core that includes comeback kids Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland and Shin-Soo Choo.

Hamilton described his own poignant version of the club's clinch to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal:

The day after we won, or clinched the division, [we] had the ginger-ale celebration on the field [and] came in. And when you come in the clubhouse, you take a left you go to the clubhouse, you take a right you go to the training room. And I took a right and went towards the training room. And Jamie Reed, the longtime trainer who's been with me for a long, long time, he just gave me a hug and told me, 'Good job.' ... And at that moment I started crying, because it kind of hit me, everything that has transpired from February until this point.

Really, this Texas teamwhich was hosed by injuries in 2014 and lost ace Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery in the springis defined by nothing if not rebirth.

Why not Hamilton? Why not now, on baseball's brightest stage?

Well, for starters, there's reason to question his presence in the Rangers' starting lineup, as NBC Sports' Matthew Pouliot did prior to Game 3:

At this point, it's worth wondering whether the Rangers should be playing Hamilton at all. He hit two homers in an 11-10 loss to the Angels last Saturday, but those were his only two homers since he came off the DL when rosters expanded last month. He's 7-for-38 (.184) with one additional extra-base hit, four RBI and a 16/1 K/BB ratio during that span.

The Rangers also realize that Hamilton is not their best defensive left fielder, which is why he’s typically pulled in favor of Will Venable when the team has a lead.

Hamilton didn't magically undo any of that with his two hits on Sunday. Imagine, though, he comes up in a big spot in Game 4, or Game 5 if necessary.

And let's say he gets a fastball, the pitch against which he broke his postseason hitless streak and that he's hit better than any other this year, per FanGraphs.

Finally, let's really extend the hypothetical and pretend his hit leaves the yard at a pivotal juncture, or drives in a go-ahead run. Heck, why not take it all the way and suggest a walk-off knock that sends Texas to the championship series?

As Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News opined, "Especially without [injured third baseman Adrian] Beltre, you need all the potential for power you can get, especially against the Jays. Hamilton can change a game with one swing."

What would that do for the troubled veteran's confidence? Would it propel him toward the comeback Texas dreamed of when it took a flier and brought Hamilton back? Might it even launch the Rangers on a deep October run?

The answers will come starting Monday, when he'll have a chance to make the good kind of history.

For now, the proposition seems as tantalizing, far-fetched and ultimately possible as anything else in Hamilton's rocky, still-unfinished career.

 

All statistics current as of Oct. 11 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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