ARLINGTON -- Josh Hamilton said he fell. He did not dive after the ball. "I'm not that stupid," Hamilton said afterward. "I reached for it, and at the last second it was tailing away from me and I basically fell. I hope people don't think I'm that stupid." Rangers fans were just hoping he was all right. He was in his first game after being sidelined since Sept. 4 with two small fractures in his right rib cage.
On a Friday night when the Rangers fell, 5-4, in 11 innings on Juan Rivera's second home run of the night, the big news was what happened in the first half of the game. Hamilton returned to the lineup in center field and went 0-for-3 against Angels starter Jered Weaver. He also made one tricky catch in the sixth inning, racing back to the wall in deep center to run down Bobby Abreu's long drive. That was his one fielding chance on the night other than fielding a routine single by Alberto Callaspo in the second. Then there was the dive. Or the fall. Abreu came up with two outs in the first inning against Rangers starter Tommy Hunter and hit a drive into the left-center-field gap. Hamilton went racing over and couldn't quite get it. Whether it was a dive or a fall, he ended up face-first on the ground as Abreu ended with up with a double. "I didn't dive for it," Hamilton said. He did come up smiling and manager Ron Washington insisted that he wasn't worried when he saw Hamilton go to the ground. "That's the way he plays," Washington said. "The only way he can hurt himself would be running into a wall like Minnesota. He let it all hang out and played well. That's what I wanted to see." Hamilton stayed in the game and had three at-bats. He fouled out on a high popup in the first, hit a roller back to Weaver in the fourth and hit a high fly to left-center in the sixth. He left the game after that at-bat. "He was much better than I thought," Washington said. "It looked like his timing was good. Jered Weaver can make you look bad." Hamilton is scheduled to be the Rangers' designated hitter on Saturday and then play the field on Sunday in the final regular-season game. Doubts about him being ready for the playoffs are fading fast. "I felt like it went well," Hamilton said. "I felt like my at-bats were good. My first at-bat, the foulout, that kind of [stunk]. I would have like to have seen more pitches, but overall, coming back, facing a guy like that for not seeing anything for a month, I feel like I did well. I was seeing the ball well." Doubts about Mitch Moreland being on the playoff roster are also fading quite fast. Moreland may have been facing a challenge from Chris Davis to be the Rangers' left-handed-hitting first baseman, but he has responded quite well. If the night was important to Hamilton, it might have been just as much to Moreland, and he delivered by hitting two home runs. Both came off of Weaver, who entered the game with the fourth-best ERA in the American League. "The last few times he faced us he has thrown the ball really well," Moreland said. "He mixes his pitches really well. I just wanted to get in a good hitting position, see the ball and hit it well." Throw in the first steal of home in his baseball career and Moreland had quite a night. That was all part of the game that Hamilton missed after his sixth-inning departure. This game would have been a classic if it had meant anything. Moreland gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the seventh with his second home run. The Angels then scored two in the eighth off Michael Kirkman and Rivera homered in the ninth off of Mark Lowe. That gave the Angels a 4-2 lead before the Ranges rallied in the bottom of the ninth. Then Ian Kinsler was hit by a pitch, Moreland walked and Bengie Molina singled. That scored one run and left runners at the corners. Julio Borbon then lined softly to shortstop, bringing up Elvis Andrus. With the count 2-0 on Andrus, pinch-runner Esteban German broke early for second. Fernando Rodney stepped off and got German in a rundown. But, after delaying too long, Rodney finally got the ball to Rivera, his first baseman. When he did, Moreland broke for home and Rivera's throw was off the mark, allowing the Rangers to pull off a double steal to tie the score. "Moreland did a good job reading that play," Washington said. "Moreland had a good night." It would have been better if the Rangers had won. But they were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position and the Angels delivered the final big blow with Rivera's 11th-inning home run off Harrison. "Definitely all the stops were pulled out tonight and Rivera ended it," Washington said. And Hamilton walked away just fine from his dive. Or his fall.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.