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Thoughts on a 9-2 A.L. West clinching win

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Rangers 9, Angels 2 -- The Texas Rangers are your 2015 A.L. West champs

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rangers 9, Angels 2

  • The Texas Rangers are your 2015 A.L. West Division Champs.
  • Woooo!!!!!
  • When the Rangers were in talks to acquire Cole Hamels, our friend Tepid said time and again that he was someone you back up the truck (in terms of prospects) in order to get, because Cole Hamels is the type of player that wins you championships.  The Rangers gave up a truckload of talent to get Hamels, and they got him for games like today.
  • Hamels was sharp from the outset, and it felt like he could do something special early in the first, after he retired the first two batters and then got two strikes on Mike Trout.  Trout did what great hitters do, though, and hit a really good pitch into left field for a double.  Then Hamels made his one really bad pitch of the game, hanging a Paul Lynde pitch to Albert Pujols on 1-0.  Pujols crushed it to just left of dead center, 400+ feet, to give the Angels a 2-0 lead and take some of the air out of a rocking Globe Life Park.  Hamels came back to retire C.J. Cron on a grounder to third base, and was yelling at himself as he left the field.
  • The Rangers got him a run back in the bottom of the first, but in the top of the second, after striking out David Freese to start the inning, Hamels gave up a double to Shane Victorino.  You could feel Rangers fans starting to worry...was this a repeat of Hamels' last start, where his command was off and he gave up two runs in each of the first three innings against Detroit?
  • But no worries...Cole Hamels had this.  That Victorino was the last hit he would give up in the game.  Two fly balls got Hamels out of the inning, and the only other baserunners Hamels allowed came on a third inning Trout walk, a sixth inning Trout HBP, and a seventh inning Victorino walk.  The final 26 batters of the game for Anaheim were 0 for 23 with 2 walks and an HBP.
  • And that is why you give up Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams and Jake Thompson, plus Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher.  With the season on the line, your three best relievers most likely unavailable, and coming off a crushing defeat, you want someone who will give you nine innings and pitch like an ace.  And that's what Cole Hamels did today.
  • Final line for Hamels:  9 IP, 3 hits, 2 walks, 1 HBP, 2 runs, 8 Ks.  108 pitches, 73 of them for strikes.  22 of 33 pitches for strikes.  I can't say that the bullpen didn't ever stir, because Nick Martinez was throwing in the 7th, whether to get some work in or because there was some thought he might come into the game, I don't know...but everyone in the ballpark knew that the Rangers needed Hamels to go 9 innings, and he came through.
  • The Angels also were dealing with bullpen issues, and also had their best starter, Garrett Richards, going today.  Richards was on short rest, and it showed early on, as he couldn't command his fastball and ended up walking the first two batters he faced, Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo.  Prince Fielder followed that up with an opposite-field single that filled the hole left by the shift, and it was suddenly 2-1.  The Rangers couldn't do any more damage, but Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland both smoked fly balls, and while Josh Hamilton struck out swinging, it was clear Richards was vulnerable, and the Rangers had run his pitch count up above 30 after one inning.
  • There was some criticism of Choo on Twitter because, when Beltre flew out to right field, he wasn't in position to tag up.  Had he tagged on the Beltre fly, he could have scored on the Moreland fly out to deep center field.  Choo looked to me like he thought the ball might fall in, and as hard as it was hit, by the time he realized it was going to be caught, he didn't have a chance to go back and tag up.  In any case, it didn't matter.
  • The Rangers had an opportunity in the second with two outs, when Chris Gimenez hit a hard shot off of David Freese's glove for a single, and then DeShields singled to left, but Choo struck out swinging to end the inning.  While not capitalizing was worrisome, there were positive signs...the Rangers were working the count and making Richards throw a lot of pitches, while Richards' lack of fastball command meant he was having to throw more breaking balls rather than being able to challenge hitters.  Texas was positioning themselves to get Richards out of the game relatively early, which would give them a shot at the soft underbelly part of the Angels pen.
  • Richards seemed to have settled down in the third and fourth innings, with a Moreland two out single being the only baserunner allowed, and started the fifth with a 2-1 lead.  DeShields tried bunting for a hit on the first pitch, but barely got the ball away from home plate, resulting in him being thrown out.  Choo then hit a grounder back up the middle for a single, bringing up Prince as the go-ahead run.  Fielder popped out, and so all Richards had to do was retire Adrian Beltre to escape the inning with the lead.  It wasn't to be for the Angels, though...Beltre went the other way for a home run to right field to give Texas a 3-2 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
  • Richards had a 1-2-3 sixth inning, but at that point, at 99 pitches on three days rest, Mike Scioscia had to go to his bullpen for the seventh inning, and that's when the Rangers put their foot on the accelerator.  Cam Bedrosian came into the game to start the inning, walked Gimenez, and then gave up a bunt single to DeShields when he and Freese collided trying to make a play on the ball.  Bedrosian was then lifted for lefty Cesar Ramos, who walked Choo to load the bases and bring up Prince.  Prince grinded the at bat, working the count full, and then fouling off pitch after pitch before drawing a walk on the 9th pitch of the at bat, forcing in a run.  Ramos was lifted for righthander Mike Morin, and the floodgates opened.  Beltre drove in a run on an infield single where Freese made a great stop but couldn't get a handle on the ball to make a throw.  Mitch Moreland's sac fly made it 6-2, and then Josh Hamilton singled on a changeup way outside (though a pitch he was called out on strikes on earlier in the game) to make it 7-2.  Elvis Andrus put the cherry on top of the big inning with a double that drove in two runs, giving the Rangers their final 9-2 margin of victory.
  • This was a terrific performance, the type of game that feels right to clinch the division with.  Yesterday's win would have been great, but Texas fell behind early, Colby Lewis wasn't as good as you'd have liked, and there was shoddy defense by the Angels that put the Rangers in position to score runs.  This was a clean, solid game across the board by the Rangers, a game that puts an exclamation mark at the end of an amazing season.
  • Now on to Toronto, and ALDS Game 1 on Thursday.