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Angels clinch a playoff berth, but two injuries take the edge off

Angels clinch a playoff berth, but two injuries take the edge off
Angels third baseman David Freese celebrates with his teammates in the dugout after hitting a home run in the fourth inning of an 8-1 win over the Seattle Mariners on Monday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

There is no rain in sight, but at least one lengthy Southern California drought has come to an end. The Angels are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, their postseason berth clinched with an 8-1 thrashing of the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.

There was no dogpile around the mound, because a much bigger prize, the American League West title, awaits. The Angels reduced their magic number to win the division — and go directly to the best-of-five division series, avoiding the one-and-done, wild-card knockout game — to three.

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Plus, the Angels were in no mood to celebrate, not after slugger Albert Pujols was pulled because of a left-hamstring cramp in the third inning and prized rookie right-hander Matt Shoemaker left in the eighth inning of yet another gem because of a left rib-cage injury.

Of the two injuries, Shoemaker's could be more serious. He felt a twinge in his left side while delivering a pitch to the last batter he faced, Humberto Quintero, in the eighth, and will undergo an MRI test on Tuesday.

"Later in the game, I felt a little side discomfort," Shoemaker said. "That's really what it was, and we were just trying to be safe. I'm not really concerned."

Manager Mike Scioscia said the injury "looks mild right now," but added, "You're always concerned when something like that happens to a pitcher. Sometimes guys bounce right back, and sometimes there are issues with an oblique that keep guys down for a long time. We don't know what the range is right now."

The Angels have survived the loss of their best pitcher, Garrett Richards, and left-hander Tyler Skaggs to season-ending injuries.

The loss of Shoemaker, who opened the season as a long reliever and improved to 16-4 with a 3.04 earned-run average Monday night, would leave them with three starters — Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago — for the playoffs and only one, Weaver, whom they can really count on.

"He's saved our season," Scioscia said of Shoemaker, who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan in 2008. "It's one of the best stories I've been around in my career, to see a young man get a chance to do what he's doing this year."

Shoemaker thought the weather — temperatures reached 102 degrees in Anaheim on Monday afternoon — had something to do with his injury. Pujols, who clutched his hamstring before pulling into second on his three-run double in the third, was sure of it.

"I knew right away it was a cramp," Pujols said. "Obviously, it's been really hot the last few days. You can put as much fluid in your body as you can, but at the end of the day, you still have the weather. I'm all right. The trainers released some of the tightness, so hopefully I'll be ready to go [Tuesday]."

The Angels got some encouraging news before the game regarding Josh Hamilton, who has missed 11 games because of a right-shoulder injury that was severe enough to warrant three cortisone injections since Sept. 4.

The left fielder was so encouraged by a workout consisting of three rounds of batting practice and running the bases that he could return as a designated hitter as soon as Wednesday.

"Hopefully this is a breakthrough day as far as his health," Scioscia said. "His workout was incredible. He was running well and swinging the bat great."

When Hamilton returns, it won't be in his customary cleanup spot, which Howie Kendrick has filled capably.

"He'll most likely be in a spot where he can get some at-bats without carrying the burden of hitting in the middle," Scioscia said. "But at some point we know our lineup needs him in the middle."

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Hamilton is not concerned about a two-week layoff. With Texas in 2010, he missed most of September because of cracked ribs, returned for the final three regular-season games and homered off then-Angels pitcher Ervin Santana in his second game back.

After hitting .111 in the division series, Hamilton hit .350 with four homers and seven RBIs in the AL Championship Series.

"I'm going to have the same approach as spring training," said Hamilton, who is batting .263 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs. "Have good at-bats, see pitches, barrel balls up, don't get caught up in the numbers. Hopefully, it will be like 2010, where I'll get a couple hits in the division series and go off in the ALCS."

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