OAKLAND -- It is the sound.
Angels left fielder Josh Hamilton has been listening for it for the better part of two years.
"He's getting real close," Angels hitting coach Don Baylor said during batting practice on the opening night of the Angels' three-game weekend series with the A's. "You can tell by the sound it makes when Josh makes contact. Watch him in the next couple of days."
Guess that is why Baylor is the hitting coach.
He knows those things.
The "Welcome Back" party came in Sunday's 9-4 Angels victory, which allowed the Halos to not only avoid being swept in their three-game visit to O.co Coliseum, but also left them with a one-game lead in the AL West over the A's with 33 regular-season games remaining.
Hamilton had given the Angels a glimpse of what is coming the previous couple of games, driving in five runs in the four games prior to Sunday.
And then on Sunday he was … well, he was Josh Hamilton.
Leading off the second inning, Hamilton went with a pitch to left field for a single, opening up what became a three-run inning against A's lefty Scotty Kazmir. After Albert Puljos singled to lead off the fourth, Hamilton unloaded his 10th home run of the season. And he provided another run in a three-run fourth with a sacrifice fly off reliever Jesse Chavez.
"You see what he did, there's no doubt he was comfortable in the batter's box," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, "especially to do that off a good left-handed pitcher."
Kazmir (14), Max Scherzer (15) of Detroit, and after earning the win on Sunday, Jered Weaver (14) of the Angels, are the only AL pitchers with at least 14 wins. Left-handed hitters were only hitting .228 against Kazmir this season. Hamilton's homer was only the second Kazmir has allowed a left-handed hitter all season, the first hit by Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson.
Hamilton is back, and just in time for the Angels to make their stretch run in search of a return to the postseason after a four-year drought.
"I've been looking for that guy from the beginning of the season," said Hamilton.
Remember that guy, the one who went 12-for-24 in the first seven games and then, in the eighth game, tore a ligament in his left thumb with a head-first slide and was sidelined for the next 55 days?
"I've been looking for that guy from Texas," said Hamilton.
Remember that guy, the one who was the AL MVP Award winner in 2010, was a five-time AL All-Star in five years with the Rangers, hit .305 with 142 home runs and 506 RBIs, and signed a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels prior to 2013?
Well, the Angels, Hamilton included, felt there were indications that guy is back and ready to create a few more memories.
It hasn't been easy. There is that human element, the one that has a guy who doesn't get the contract he is hoping for from his former team going somewhere new and wanting to make sure he proves he deserved the financial respect.
A bad couple of games and that guy can talk himself into a funk. It's not by design. It's residual of desire -- desire unmet.
Then comes that point where that good player returns. Enough is enough. He's ready to step forward.
There's no special elixir for what ails him, although there are plenty of gimmicks to try, like taking a couple days off in Boston and then, in the final game at Fenway Park on Thursday night, using a lighter bat for batting practice.
There's a private session in the batting cage that day in Boston, where there's nobody standing behind the cage, waiting to take a turn, and a guy can just relax and swing until he can't swing any more.
"You could see a difference that night in Boston," said Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto. "That's exciting for all of us. We've seen him be a good hitter, but we haven't seen that power [that he had in Texas]."
Bottom line, though, it's more a matter of taking a deep breath and just cutting loose.
"[Saturday], I didn't cut loose," Hamilton said.
It showed. He was 0-for-4 in the Angels' 2-1 loss. He struck out twice.
"[Sunday], I told myself I was just going to have fun," he said. "I told myself to just cut loose and go out and play. I told myself to not be thinking about everything. Just enjoy it."
Hamilton enjoyed it.
So did the Angels.
And what is really enjoyable for them in their bid to hold off the A's in the division race is the belief that this is just the start of a late-season surge from Hamilton.
Rest assured the Angels can use it. Their rotation is a bit short right now. As if it wasn't enough to lose Tyler Skaggs to Tommy John surgery back in April, last week Garrett Richards, who was stepping into the ace role, suffered a knee injury that required surgery and there's no definite date for his return next season.
With the non-waiver Trade Deadline having passed, and with the Angels, by virtue of having the best record in baseball, having the last shot at a claim on any player on waivers, they know it's going to be difficult to add a starter, much less a go-to-guy for the postseason.
Scioscia knows the bullpen is going to have to pick up some slack.
But he also knows that an offensive surge from Hamilton will make everybody's job easier.
"This is huge," Scioscia admitted about Hamilton's Sunday effort. "He can control a game himself. We saw it when he was in Texas. We saw it the first week of the season."
The Angels saw it again on Sunday night, in what they hope is a sign of things to come.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less