Irrelevance arrived in Safeco Field in the bottom of the fifth inning Sunday when Oakland’s wild-card-clinching victory over Texas was posted on the left-field scoreboard.
That result eliminated the Seattle Mariners from playoff contention, making their 4-1 victory over the Angels in the regular-season finale moot. All that was left for the home team was for ace Felix Hernandez and star second baseman Robinson Cano to take their final bows upon being removed in the sixth inning.
The Angels move on to bigger and better things. They’ll open a best-of-five American League division series Thursday at home against the winner of Tuesday’s wild-card game between the Kansas City Royals and Athletics.
Lucky for them, they won’t have to face Hernandez, the nasty right-hander who blanked them on one hit — Albert Pujols’ shattered-bat single in the first inning — and struck out seven batters in 5 1/3 innings to close with a 15-6 record and an AL-low 2.14 earned-run average.
“He’s as tough as they come,” Manager Mike Scioscia said, “and he’s really pitched tough against us this year.”
The Angels scored five runs while being swept in the three-game series by Seattle, and they’ve lost seven of 10 games since clinching the AL West title Sept. 17, but that hardly put a damper on their mood.
“You always want to win to gain momentum, but we have to get mentally prepared these next three days and go from there,” center fielder Mike Trout said. “We have a couple days to prepare for the playoffs, and we’re just excited to get started.”
So is pitcher Matt Shoemaker, who said he “felt great” after a bullpen workout of 30 to 40 pitches on Sunday, the strongest indication yet that the right-hander, who is recovering from a mild left rib-cage strain, will pitch in the division series.
Left fielder Josh Hamilton also took a positive step toward returning from right rib-cage and chest injuries, swinging off a tee, hitting soft toss, throwing, running and tracking pitches from the batter’s box during Shoemaker’s bullpen session.
But Hamilton, who played in one of the final 22 games, won’t know whether he’ll be ready for the playoffs until he pushes himself in batting-practice sessions Monday and Tuesday and hits off live pitching Wednesday.
“I’m going to have to just swing,” Hamilton said. “I can’t be over here trying to remind myself every time I swing to just swing with two hands. So [Monday] will be another big day.”
Hamilton said he didn’t feel the “spasm” in his chest that prevented him from swinging the previous four days. But he isn’t able to finish his swing with his normal one-hand follow-through yet.
“The pain isn’t the issue, it’s the spasm part of it,” Hamilton said. “As long as I can play and not spasm, I’ll be fine. That means I have to get after it the next couple of days, push it a little bit, because I can’t baby it in a game.”
Shoemaker, who was injured Sept. 15, threw all of his pitches at “full intensity” and felt only a “touch” of tightness, which he said he could pitch through.
“Hopefully in a couple of days, I won’t feel it at all,” Shoemaker said. “Each day, it has felt better.”
Shoemaker, who was 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA, is expected to face hitters Tuesday or Wednesday. He said he is “very confident” he’ll pitch in the division series, though Scioscia wouldn’t say when.
Jered Weaver will start Game 1 and C.J. Wilson is expected to start Game 2 on Friday. The Angels are leaning heavily toward using a three-man rotation in the first round, so Shoemaker would likely start Game 3.
“We’ll eventually settle on a rotation that can get us to our goal, but how it lines up, we don’t really know,” Scioscia said. “There are too many variables to make those decisions.”