Until the seventh inning Friday, it looked like the Texas Rangers were going to have to wait until Saturday or even Sunday to clinch the American League West.
Oakland A’s starter Kendall Graveman was throwing, hello, a perfect game, and while Cole Hamels hadn’t allowed a run, the A’s had threatened three times.
But then Carlos Gomez beat out an infield hit to start the seventh, and Graveman was suddenly very hittable. Ian Desmond singled, and two batters later Adrian Beltre homered.
Of course he did.
Hamels returned for a scoreless seventh, with Beltre triggering a key double play.
Of course they did.
The Rangers are the champs of the AL West for a second straight year after a 3-0 victory.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from the clincher.
1. First and foremost on the Rangers’ to-do list over the final eight games is securing home-field advantage. They have the edge now with the league’s top record (91-63), but it’s a thin margin.
Realistically, the Rangers could open the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. The Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox just keep winning, so much so that the Indians are only a half-game behind and the Red Sox only one back.
The Rangers appear to have the edge when looking at their remaining schedule — two games against the A’s (66-87), three against the Milwaukee Brewers (70-84) and three against the Tampa Bay Rays (65-88).
The Rangers play their final six games at home, where they are 50-25.
“Home field is huge,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “When you get to play in front of the home fans and get that edge, it’s a great edge for you and your team. It’s awesome. There’s plenty more energy, and you feed off that. It helps you win games. I really believe that.”
The Indians have only two games left at home, Saturday and Sunday, before playing four at the second-place Detroit Tigers and three at the defending world champion Kansas City Royals.
Boston is playing at Tampa Bay this weekend, will go to Yankee Stadium for three and will finish at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The task for manager Jeff Banister is to rest players yet not so much that the Rangers slip. The next few days could see key contributors sit. They will definitely sit, probably with hangovers, on Saturday.
But if the home field is on the line over the final four or five games, the regulars will be in there.
“I think home field is No. 1, but in the interim, in the early stages, we have some guys to get off their feet,” Banister said. “Guys are going to play, but it’s an opportunity to rest guys a little bit and also keep them ramped up. I look at it more like a NASCAR race. We’ve got to change some tires and get some new fuel.”
2. Hamels pitched the Rangers to a division clincher for the second consecutive season, tossing seven scoreless innings and pitching out of trouble a few times to do so.
His effort in Game 162 was better, though he allowed two first-inning runs. But he allowed only one hit over the final eight innings as the Rangers pulled away from the Anaheim Angels for the title.
Hamels’ effort was significant. He hadn’t been particularly pleased with his past four starts, and with good reason. Too many walks, too many runs, and too many losses.
Something changed against the A’s. Maybe it was the moment, which a catcher suggested. Maybe it was the A’s, though that lineup had plenty of success last week against Hamels.
“We all understand what’s at stake, and we wanted to get it sealed up as quickly as possible,” he said. “I’ve just been fortunate enough to be on the mound. I knew as long as I could plug away, the guys were going to score.”
Hamels said he improved but still has improving to do. He is looking at one more start before he gets the ball in Game 1 of the ALDS.
3. Each one of these division titles since 2010 has been different, shortstop Elvis Andrus and general manager Jon Daniels said.
In 2010, it was the euphoria of doing for the first time since 1999 and doing it for Michael Young.
In 2011, it was the first step on the road to a World Series the Rangers knew they would win.
In 2015, Cole Hamels delivered in the final game as the Rangers completed their worst-to-first climb at the expense of the Houston Astros.
This year, again with the Astros playing second (or third) fiddle, the Rangers won with a variety of different storylines.
A little free-agent redemption for Ian Desmond. Doing it for cancer fighter Tony Beasley and for slugger Prince Fielder, who can’t do it himself any more. Matt Bush’s story will be a story next month.
There are more lost in the foul odor of champagne, beer and cigar smoke, but 12 days to touch them all before the ALDS.