BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – The late Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “It’s not over til it’s over.” That proved to be all too true for the Texas Rangers this weekend as they went all the way to regular season game number 162 to win the West Division championship. They appeared to have the division title in hand on Saturday when they took a 10-6 lead into the ninth inning, but the depleted bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, and the drama extended to Sunday, when they finally finished off the Angels 9-2. They are now set to open the American League Division series in Toronto on Thursday and will have a home game next Sunday against the Blue Jays.
Sunday afternoon, the Angels struck early for a pair of runs with two outs in the first. Mike Trout doubled and Albert Pujols knocked his 40th home run of the season to push the Angels to a 2-0 lead. Texas answered with a run in their half of the first inning. The Rangers’ starting pitcher – Cole Hamels – was lights out from there. He pitched a complete game, shutting out Los Angeles over the final eight innings while allowing just one more hit.
The Angels’ Garrett Richards, pitching on short rest, posted zeroes on the board for the next three innings. The Rangers took the lead in the fifth inning when Richards surrendered Adrian Beltre’s 18th home run of the season into the lower level of the right field porch with a runner on base. That made the score 3-2, which lasted until the seventh inning, when Texas put the game away. They batted around sending 10 men to the plate. Six scored to run the lead to 9-2.
That was the final score. Hamels (13-8 overall and 7-1 for the Rangers) was the winning pitcher. Richards, pitching on short rest, fought command issues and certainly deserved a better fate in the end. He threw a quality start giving up three runs on six hits while completing six innings to take the loss and fall to 15-12.
To win the division, the Angels needed to sweep the series, but Texas quickly dispelled that idea in Thursday’s series opening game. The Angels had taken a 1-0 lead with a second inning sacrifice fly, but the Rangers erupted for four runs in the fifth inning en route to a 5-3 win. Delino Deshields, Jr. hit what appeared to be a routine single to center field that he hustled into a double. That drove in the Rangers’ first run to tie the game. Sin-Soo Choo followed with a walk to load the bases, and then Adrian Beltre unloaded the bases with a line drive double down the left field line.
The Angels came back with single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to get within a run at 4-3. Derek Holland was reeling from three consecutive poor starts, but pitched well in this one. He went 6-1/3 innings and was charged with three runs. Four Ranger relievers shut down the Angels over the balance of the game, and the Rangers added an insurance run in the seventh inning.
The win not only eliminated the Angels from winning the division, but also assured Texas of at least making the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Holland (4-3) was the winning pitcher, while Angels’ starter Andrew Heaney (6-4) took the loss. Shawn Tolleson earned his 35th save by shutting down the Angels in the ninth inning, throwing 19 pitches to retire the Angels in order.
47,219 showed up Friday night expecting to see a ball game, fireworks and a party. Unfortunately, the third largest crowd of the season saw a great game and marvelous fireworks, but the party was put on hold. Los Angeles scratched out a run in the ninth inning off Ranger closer Shawn Tolleson to break a 1-1 tie. When the Rangers didn’t score in their half of the ninth inning, the celebration for clinching the division championship was put off for at least a day as the Astros scored three touchdowns to paste the Diamondbacks 21-5.
Martin Perez made his final regular season start of the year and pitched well. He blew through seven innings allowing a run on four hits. The Angels scored their run in the first inning when Ranger nemesis C. J. Cron singled home Erick Aybar with two outs. The outing was Perez’s eighth quality start since August 1, most on the staff in that span, and makes a strong case for Perez to be on the post-season roster as a starting pitcher.
Sin-Shoo Choo supplied the Rangers’ scoreboard damage with his 22nd home run leading off the fourth inning. Unfortunately, that was all the Rangers could muster, as they were held to three hits by Angels’ starter Jered Weaver and four relievers. Tolleson (6-4) was tagged with the 2-1 loss. Mike Morin (4-2) finished the eighth inning to qualify for the win. Joe Smith needed just 11 pitches to retire the Rangers in the ninth inning to earn his fourth save.
The party didn’t happen on Saturday either as the Rangers suffered undoubtedly their most disappointing loss of the season. The post-game celebration was set as the Rangers took a 10-6 lead into the ninth inning. The bullpen that had been so good in September when they led the Majors with the lowest ERA and opponents’ batting average, couldn’t get the job done. Tolleson, working for the fifth consecutive day, gave up home runs to the first two batters of the inning. Banister lifted him then, but the inning completely unraveled.
When the dust settled, Los Angeles held an 11-10 lead, and they promptly retired the Rangers in the bottom of the inning for the win which kept their thin playoff hopes alive until Sunday when the Rangers finally settled the division championship.
The Rangers will play in Toronto on Thursday and Friday, and after Saturday’s off day, will be at home on Sunday and Monday if needed. Pitching matchups have not been announced, but Hamels likely starts game two on Friday on regular rest, especially after throwing 108 pitches on Sunday. The most likely game one starter is either Yovani Gallardo or Derek Holland. Interestingly, the Rangers went just 2-5 against the Jays this season, and Gallardo was the winning pitcher in both Ranger wins. Davis Price, the leading candidate to win the A. L. Cy Young Award along with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is the probable game one starter for Toronto.
Houston finished one game ahead of the Angels to claim the second Wild Card berth. They will play the Yankees in the Bronx on Tuesday night with the winner moving on to play Kansas City, and loser being eliminated.
* The Rangers became the fifth team in Major League history and the second in the American League to have the most losses in the league one year and make the playoffs the next.
* Sin-Shoo Choo matched his career high with 22 home runs this season.
* Final home attendance for the Rangers was 2,491,875 an average of 30,764 per game and a drop of 226,858 (-8.3%) from last year.
* Colby Lewis finished the season with 206 innings pitched, a new career high. It was the third time in his career to reach the 200 innings mark, and in the other two years, the Rangers went to the World Series.
* The Rangers finished the season with a 7-12 record against Los Angeles.
* On Saturday, the two teams combined to use 18 pitchers (nine for each team) to tie a Major League record.