His own worst critic, as just about all big leaguers are, Cole Hamels hadn’t gone one press conference since his trade to the Texas Rangers without saying he still had to prove himself.
To fans, to new teammates, to whoever might have been wondering if he, indeed, is as good as all the hype that preceded his arrival to Globe Life Park. The July 25 no-hitter and 2008 World Series MVP, apparently, were yesterday’s news.
Hamels was the news Friday in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, allowing only one run and two hits while striking out 10 over eight innings. He retired 15 of the 16 he faced, including 14 straight at one point, in a dominant stretch after a bumpy third inning.
That was the missing proof he had been seeking.
“Being able to go deep into the ballgame and give the bullpen a break, on top of being able to limit the runs, that’s what I like to do,” Hamels said. “That’s the reason I’m here, to be able to do that. When you’re able to do that, you’re able to win ballgames.”
Hamels won his second straight start, and the Rangers won in his third straight start as they moved within four games Houston in the American League West. The Rangers’ lead for the second wild card held at a half-game over Minnesota, who beat the Astros.
Shin-Soo Choo homered and drove in two runs, and Chris Gimenez also homered to open the three-game series against one of the teams in the wild-card chase with the Rangers. Delino DeShields added an RBI triple in the seventh.
For Gimenez, his fourth homer of the season — all in his past 11 games — established a career-high.
“I’ve been doing a little work on my swing and able to repeat it,” said Gimenez, whose homer struck a cameraman in center field. “I’m getting pitches and not missing them.”
The only Hamels hiccup came in the third after he opened with two quick scoreless innings. Paul Janish reached on a one-out double, and Hamels walked Manny Machado and Steve Pearce to load the bases.
After striking out All-Star center fielder Adam Jones, Hamels walked Chris Davis to force in the game’s first run before Matt Wieters bounced out.
“I think that last out of the third is what got him on track,” manager Jeff Banister said. “A 95 mph fastball had a little intention to it.”
The Orioles missed their chance at big inning, and didn’t get another chance against Hamels. He struck out the side in the fourth, needed only nine pitches each in the fifth and the sixth, and struck out two more in the seventh.
When the string of 14 consecutive outs ended with a one-out walk in the eighth to Machado, Hamels got Steve Pearce to quickly bounce into an inning-ending double play on his 111th and final pitch.
“Giving away free passes, you want to make guys earn their hits and their bases and especially their runs,” Hamels said. “Once you’re doing that, you have to kick into gear and focus a little bit more because that’s not the kind of game I like to pitch.”
Hamels said that his cut fastball was a big pitch for him, one that he started to zero in on Sunday at Detroit. He won that start, his first win with the Rangers, and carried the cutter into his bullpen session and into Friday.
He also said that he has started to form an relationship with Gimenez, who caught Hamels for a third straight start, and has started to feel comfortable in his new clubhouse. It’s go time, Hamels said, with a potential playoff spot on the line.
“This is the part of the season where everything is and everything is focused on, and the situation and excitement, this is where it comes out and where you have to be at your best,” Hamels said.
He entered Friday as if he still had something to prove since the eight-player trade July 31. He did that over eight solid innings against the Orioles.
“I think he proved to everybody just how tough he is and the type of pitcher he is,” Banister said. “It’s really as quality an outing as we’ve seen from Cole.”