If this was a “statement” series, as several Dallas-area media outlets built it up to be, then consider the Texas Rangers heard.
They completed an emphatic three-game sweep of the Angels with a 3-0 victory Sunday at the Ballpark in Arlington, where four pitchers combined to hand the Angels their first shutout of the season and Josh Hamilton made a game-saving, highlight-reel catch in center field.
The Rangers out-slugged the Angels, out-pitched them and out-gloved them, making several spectacular defensive plays throughout the series.
Texas extended its winning streak to seven games and its American League West lead to 4 1/2 games. The Rangers (23-14) are 19-7 since April 19 and are nine games over .500 for the first time since June 1, 2005.
“Those guys are definitely hungry, you can tell,” Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. “This was an important series for us and for them. We didn’t get the job done, and they played exceptionally well. They caught everything, and their pitchers hit their spots.”
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, whose teams have won four of the last five division titles, downplayed the significance of the series, saying that “whatever happens this weekend is not going to cement any pennants.”
But knowing that virtually no one picked the Rangers to win the division, and seeing how pumped they were after each win over the Angels, Hunter acknowledged that an early-season sweep like this can certainly fuel an up-and-coming club such as Texas.
“If we were the team no one was talking about, we’d definitely be pumped,” Hunter said. “This can definitely carry over for them. We have to stay close. If we get too far behind, that’s our fault.”
Scott Feldman gave up four hits over six innings, and relievers Jason Jennings, Eddie Guardado and Darren O’Day blanked the Angels over the final three innings, but it was Hamilton who left an indelible impression.
Hamilton showed his prodigious power and his strong arm Friday night, hitting a 460-foot home run into the upper deck in right field and throwing out Howie Kendrick at the plate.
Sunday, he showed his speed and athletic ability, racing to the wall for Kendrick’s seventh-inning drive and making a leaping catch just as he crashed into the fence, about 407 feet from the plate.
The ball would not have left the park, but Gary Matthews Jr., who had singled with one out, was running with the full-count pitch and easily would have scored. Kendrick would have had a sure double, maybe a triple.
“He’s got five tools, man,” Hunter said of Hamilton. “He can throw, run, hit . . . we would have easily scored on that play, and he took it away.”
Said Kendrick: “I thought it was a hit. I didn’t think he’d get to it. He made a heck of a play. He covered a lot of ground all series.”
Hamilton strained his right groin slightly on the play and left in the eighth inning, but his catch kept the score tied, 0-0. It also seemed to give the Rangers momentum in the seventh, when they broke up Jered Weaver’s shutout.
Hank Blalock led off with a double, took third on Nelson Cruz’s single and scored on David Murphy’s sacrifice fly. The Rangers tacked on two runs in the eighth when Omar Vizquel tripled and Ian Kinsler and Marlon Byrd hit run-scoring doubles.
The Rangers have long been a dangerous offensive team, but their defense appears vastly improved this season.
They turned seven double plays in the series, and first baseman Chris Davis made a superb stretch and scoop of Kinsler’s one-hop throw from second base to end Saturday’s game.
“Their first baseman makes a lot of plays, Kinsler is gobbling everything up like Pac-Man, [Michael] Young is a great athlete at third, Cruz has a great outfield arm, and [outfielder] Byrd is a great athlete,” Hunter said.
“I’ve talked to [Texas Manager] Ron Washington for years. He always wants to play great defense and hit, and that’s what I see.”