- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Staff Writer
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers' fans, frustrated with their superstar's continued indifference, finally booed the man with baseball's sweetest swing Friday night.
It was long overdue.
Josh Hamilton, as talented as any player in the game, earned the fans' wrath with yet another lethargic performance in the Baltimore Orioles' 5-1 win over the Rangers in the American League wild-card game.
Hamilton's dropping a routine fly ball and casually chasing it three days ago against Oakland will be the lasting image of one Major League Baseball's historic collapses.
No team has ever led a division for 178 days without winning it until Hamilton led the Rangers into baseball's annals with one of the sorriest end-of-the-season performances we've ever seen.
The Rangers blew a five-game lead with nine to play and a four-game lead with six to play.
Hamilton led the way.
Thankfully, the Rangers' fan base finally yanked his pass and let him feel their anger when Hamilton meekly tapped out to the pitcher in the sixth inning with the Rangers trailing by a run.
The throng of 46,931 booed him lustily as he returned to the dugout with a familiar smirk.
"To the fans," Hamilton said after the game, "it has been a good ride -- no matter if you send me off with boos, I still love you."
Fans cheered Hamilton when he stepped into the batter's box with Ian Kinsler on second base and two outs in the eighth. They yearned for one more magical moment from Hamilton, who had 43 homers and 128 RBIs this season.
He struck out on three fastballs. They booed again.
"You think about it, you do," Hamilton said of what should be his final at-bat as a Ranger. "Then the boos slowly drown it out. It's part of the game. It doesn't matter if I play here or somewhere else.
"You'd like to think it wouldn't happen here, but it does. It's just one of those things. I gave it my all like I always do. I came up short and didn't get the job done. Overall, I had a great year."
Hamilton was at his passive-aggressive best. The boos didn't bother him, but he kept talking about them. Just like he kept talking about how hard he plays every day.
It's irrelevant, really.
He quit on this team when he removed himself in the fourth inning against the Angels on Sept. 18, in the first game of an important six-game road trip, because he had a sinus infection. Or was it blurry vision?
Hamilton finally found a doctor to tell him he was suffering from ocular keratitis, which occurs when folks ingest too much caffeine. Of course, his manager said he'd never seen Hamilton drink coffee. Hamilton blamed it on energy drinks.
Eye drops cured him.
"I was a hazard to myself and hazard to people out there with the eyes, so no," said Hamilton when asked if he had any regrets about taking himself out against the Angels.
When asked if his eyes were still a problem, Hamilton said, "I plead the fifth."
Hamilton's uninspired play reached an apex with his unforgivable play against Oakland and culminated with his performance against Baltimore.
In the first inning with runners on first and third and none out and Joe Saunders struggling to throw strikes, Hamilton swung at the first pitch. He grounded into a double play, though it tied the score at 1.
In the third, he struck out on three pitches. In the sixth, he tapped out on one pitch, and he struck out on three pitches in the eighth.
Four at-bats. Eight pitches. Four outs.
The Rangers will miss Hamilton's production next season. But they won't miss begging him to play. They won't miss his energy-draining drama. And they won't miss his laissez-faire attitude.
See, you can't count on Hamilton because you never know whether he's in a slump. Or a funk.
When a hitter slumps, he makes adjustments with his batting stance, studies video and grinds through it. When Hamilton is in a funk, you simply have to wait for him to emerge.
Maybe it takes a couple of months, like it did this summer when he hit .202 with eight homers combined in June and July. Then again, maybe he doesn't come out of it at all, which is what happened at the end of this season.
Only a fool would sign Hamilton to a deal worth $25 million a year over five, six or seven years.
If he acts like this before he gets the mega payday, what in the world will he do once he hits the lotto?
Just so you know, Hamilton hit .224 with one homer, five RBIs and 20 strikeouts after he gave up energy drinks.
"It sucks, plain and simple," Hamilton said of his performance at the end of the season. "Period. It's over."
So is his time in Texas.
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