The Texas Rangers’ brain trust met Sunday in the hours before the all-important regular-season finale to figure out who the heck would pitch for them in relief.
The bullpen was shot, even though closer Shawn Tolleson and set-up man Sam Dyson said that they were available after pitching five consecutive days, for a game in which a win meant a division title.
Plan A, as put forth by pitching coach Mike Maddux, was to get nine innings from left-hander Cole Hamels.
“He stepped up and did it,” general manager Jon Daniels said.
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Hamels went to the mound and promptly gave up a two-run home run. In the second inning, he had to work around a one-out double.
That was it for the Los Angeles Angels, and that was exactly what the Rangers needed.
Hamels didn’t allow a hit over the final seven innings of his first complete game with the Rangers, and Adrian Beltre homered and drove in three runs as the Rangers beat the Angels 9-2 and clinched the American League West title.
The Rangers will open the AL Division Series on Thursday at Toronto. Game 2 will be Friday, followed by Game 3 on Sunday at Globe Life Park. Game 4, if necessary will be Oct. 12 at home, and Game 5 would be Oct. 14 at Toronto if necessary.
“All I was thinking about was just trying to manage the game and trying to limit base runners and go as deep as I could possibly go,” Hamels said. “This is why we train. This is what we do in the off-season and spring training. This is how I play the game of baseball, it’s to win and it’s to play into October and November.”
The Rangers became the sixth team in the division era, since 1969, and first since Minnesota in 2006 to win a division title after trailing by at least eight games in August.
The performance — nine innings, two runs, three hits, eight strikeouts in the biggest game of the season — is why the Rangers acquired Hamels on July 31 from Philadelphia in a deal that was initially framed as being for the future.
The future, it turns out, is now, though Hamels didn’t act alone. The acquisitions of Jake Diekman in an eight-player trade with the Phillies, Dyson from Miami and Mike Napoli from Boston contributed to the Rangers’ surge.
So did the reclamation projects of Beltre, who drove in an MLB-high 55 runs beginning Aug. 15, and Shin-Soo Choo, who went from all-time bust to the Rangers’ best offensive player in the second half.
Hamels, of course, did more than just close the deal Sunday. The Rangers won his final 10 starts, tying the club record held by Roger Pavlik in 1993. Without Hamels, who knows?
“The guy has a proven track record for being a big-game guy,” Maddux said. “It all speaks for itself. He did it as a rookie, he did it as a young player and he really showed what he’s really all about today.
“A shot bullpen, and he took matters in his own hands and gave everybody a day off. It was fitting he was the last guy out there for the last out to win the division.”
He pretty much had the game in hand. Beltre came up with a big home run, and you could tell that it was shutdown time for Cole.
Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland
Mike Trout doubled with two outs in the first, and Albert Pujols followed with a shot to center field to put the Rangers in a quick hole. But they got a run in their first turn on a Prince Fielder RBI single off Garrett Richards, who was working on short rest.
Shane Victorino had a double with one out in the second, but Hamels retired 23 of the final 26 batters he faced.
Beltre sent a two-run homer just over the wall in right field in the fifth to put the Rangers ahead for good, and they scored six times in the seventh to pull away.
35 Home runs against the Angels for Adrian Beltre, whose two-run homer in the fifth game the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
Fielder got the first run home on a bases-loaded walk, Beltre added an infield hit for another run, Mitch Moreland had a sacrifice fly, Josh Hamilton added an RBI single, and Elvis Andrus capped it with two-run double.
“Everybody was just doing whatever they could to win,” Fielder said. “Whatever you can do to win. We’re being aggressive but patient at the same time.”
Hamels, who kept his arm loose during the 37-minute bottom of the seventh by throwing balls into a net, returned for the eighth and posted consecutive 1-2-3 innings to clinch it.
That’s why he’s an ace. He’s pitched in big games before, knows how to handle himself. We scratched some runs against him early and just fell short.
Angels center fielder Mike Trout on Cole Hamels
David Freese, who haunted the Rangers in the 2011 World Series, made the final out before the Rangers stormed the field with the franchise’s sixth division title in their back pocket.
“I wasn’t checking with Cole. He was our guy,” manager Jeff Banister said. “The last start he told me he still had a lot left in the tank. I believe what he says. You could see the look in his eyes. I saw it three days ago. That’s why we made the change and put him in this spot. Big players step up in big spots.”
Now, the team left for dead in spring training when Yu Darvish was injured and again after a 7-14 April and once more after a 1-7 homestand to finish the first half is in the postseason.
Hamels, who joined the Rangers when they were seven games out of first place, delivered the title Sunday.
2 Complete games this season for Cole Hamels. The first was a no-hitter June 25 against the Cubs, and the second was Sunday as the Rangers clinched the AL West.
“There was a good team here, a great offense,” he said. “It was just a matter of getting a couple of starting pitchers healthy. The bullpen, they made the right moves there. You just have to like the situation, we all did, and you have to believe.”