These are the nights the Texas Rangers got Cole Hamels for.
Stop-the-losing nights. Must-win nights. Nights when the Astros and Angels are breathing down the Rangers’ first-place necks.
Pennant race nights. Hamels, the MVP of the 2008 World Series for Philadelphia, has certainly seen them before.
Yet, with all that at stake, veteran lefty Hamels took the mound Tuesday night … and promptly laid an egg.
Let’s not bury the home team’s happy ending. Hamels and the Texas bullpen stopped the bleeding, and the Rangers held on for a 7-6 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
But it was a desperate, head-shaking night, and an outcome fortuitously aided and abetted by the visiting Tigers’ sloppy glove play.
Hamels found a way to squander both 5-2 and 6-4 leads in the game’s first three innings.
It led to not one or two, but three visits to the mound by pitching coach Mike Maddux.
The crowd of 28,729 at Globe Life Ballpark audibly squirmed over those first three innings. Hamels seemed to be fighting not only the location of his fastball, but also the high expectations that brought him to Texas.
With Tigers on second and third with two outs in the third, however, Hamels struck out Detroit catcher (and TCU ex) Bryan Holaday to end the inning. He then retired the next eight in a row and struck out the side in the sixth.
Much to the Astros’ and Angels’ chagrins, the Rangers’ lead remained fixed at 7-6.
A win is a win, never more so than in the final week of a playoff chase. But I thought the Rangers traded for Cole Hamels, not Indiana Jones.
In most times, the bright side should be all that matters. Hamels turned his night around, and the Rangers snapped a three-game losing streak.
The timing, however, was far too uneasy. On a night when the Tigers started a guy who was pitching in minor league Buffalo two months ago, Daniel Norris, the Rangers handed the ball to their high-priced ace and yet found themselves in knots to the end.
“It’s not what you want to be able to do at this time,” Hamels said after the game, “especially with the way things have been going and how I’ve been feeling, and not to be able to go out and put up the type of performance I’d expect.”
Hamels gave credit to the way his new teammates played in the field. No play was bigger than Drew Stubbs’ sprinting catch in right-center for the final out of the night — of an Ian Kinsler drive, no less.
“Every one of those guys in the lineup kept getting us to the next inning and really played solid defense,” Hamels said. “I can’t be more thankful for that, because it definitely made the type of performance I had a little bit better and easier to move past.”
Hamels handled his rough start like the veteran he’s supposed to be. Unable to locate his fastball, he turned to mostly curveballs and change-ups over his final two innings. In all 21 of his 27 pitches in the fifth and sixth innings were off-speed pitches.
After allowing nine of the first 16 Tigers to reach base, including homers by Holaday and J.D. Martinez, Hamels settled in to retire nine in a row and 10 of the last 11 he faced.
The Rangers’ bullpen took care of the rest.