For the second year in a row, Texas used a clutch pitching performance from Cole Hamels to wrap up the American League West division championship, shutting out Oakland on Friday by a 3-0 final.
With a magic number of 1 heading into play, the Rangers needed either a win or a Mariners loss in order to clinch the seventh division title in franchise history. Seattle hammered Minnesota, 10-1, so Texas and its ace left-hander controlled their own fate.
Hamels displayed his usual effectiveness after going through a string of four straight subpar starts, scattering six hits and a pair of walks over seven shutout innings. The Athletics’ Kendall Graveman outdid Hamels with six perfect frames before running into trouble in the seventh.
Consecutive singles from Carlos Gomez and Ian Desmond put runners on the corners with nobody out for Carlos Beltran, who hit an infield chopper to drive in Gomez. On the very next pitch, Adrian Beltre slugged a two-run homer off Graveman to give Texas pitchers all the support they would need.
Rookie right-hander Matt Bush followed Hamels by fanning two of the three men he faced in a spotless eighth inning, and closer Sam Dyson worked around Danny Valencia’s two-out single in the ninth to induce a game-ending grounder from Yonder Alonso.
The Rangers enjoyed a relatively subdued on-field celebration at Oakland Coliseum before heading back to the clubhouse. There they popped champagne, lit cigars and stressed the importance of achieving their ultimate goal.
“This is just the first step,” Beltre said. “We have 11 more games to win. We have a good team. We have a team good enough to win the World Series.”
Texas made its only two World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, getting shut down by San Francisco the first year before pushing St. Louis to seven games the second. Last season marked the team’s first A.L. West title in four years, but Toronto ousted the Rangers in a five-game divisional-round matchup.
Just four players remain from the squad that captured the first A.L. pennant in 2010 (Elvis Andrus, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Mitch Moreland), and they’re still leading the charge in their seventh season together.
“I feel like we’ve always had a lot of emotion,” Lewis said. “We play with a lot of passion, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what makes us good.”
The Rangers needed only 154 games to seal the division title, matching their 2011 rate for the fastest to clinch a playoff berth. They’ll play the final week of the regular season with a chance to secure the best record in the American League and, with it, home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Additionally, Jeff Banister became the fourth big-league manager since 1995 to win division titles in each of his first two seasons with a new club, joining Larry Dierker (Astros), Bob Brenley (Diamondbacks) and Ron Gardenhire (Twins).
Following Friday’s big win, Texas split the final two contests against Oakland to run its record to 92-64 on the year. Yu Darvish turned in a nine-strikeout performance Saturday as the Rangers rolled to a second straight shutout, 5-0, but the A’s stomped any hopes of a sweep with their 7-1 victory on Sunday.
Jeffress Returns from Restricted List
The bullpen received a boost when right-hander Jeremy Jeffress was reinstated from the restricted list on Friday, nearly one month after he was arrested on a driving while intoxicated charge in Dallas.
Jeffress, 29, spent the past few weeks in a Houston-area rehab facility, where he received treatment and was able to throw every day to keep his arm in shape.
When the Rangers clinched the A.L. West in Oakland, the team held a ginger ale toast so that Jeffress and fellow reliever Matt Bush – another recovering alcoholic – could celebrate before the champagne and beer were opened.
Righty Tony Barnette, meanwhile, also rejoined the Texas relief corps after being sidelined with a strained oblique muscle since early September.
Mavs Go Out in Memorable Fashion
With a 7-4 comeback win over Visalia on Saturday, Sept. 17, the High Desert Mavericks claimed the fourth and final California League title in club history.
Given a quick 1-0 lead with which to work, starter Collin Wiles dug a hole for High Desert by permitting two runs in the second inning and another in the fifth. The Mavs roared back, however, with a five-run bottom of the sixth against a combination of four Rawhide hurlers.
High Desert tied the score on a pair of bases-loaded walks drawn by Josh Morgan and Michael De Leon, then went ahead when Luke Tendler grounded into what should have been an inning-ending double play.
Visalia’s catcher forgot to tag Carlos Arroyo as he came home from third base, a miscue that set the stage for the next batter – Juremi Profar – to deliver a decisive two-run single.
The team will now depart the California League and move cross-country to Kinston, N.C., where it will change names and begin play in 2017 as part of the High-A Carolina League.