A 96-pitch complete game 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Last night, Cole Hamels pitched like the Cole Hamels the Rangers traded for. Even better, in fact. It was his best game of the season, a season that has been up and down and interrupted by injury.
After the game, he explained what the difference was.
He said this is the first time in a year and a half he has felt good about his changeup. This is from a pitcher who built his career on his devastating changeup. It’s like Eric Clapton saying he hasn’t been happy with his guitar playing for a while.
A year and a half ago was, coincidentally, the last complete game Hamels pitched. You may remember that game. It was the last regular season game of the 2015 season, the most important Rangers game of that season.
The Rangers were in fourth place in the AL West, and falling fast under new manager Jeff Banister. Nothing was working. His bullpen kept blowing up on him. His offense wasn’t clicking.
Then the front office traded for Cole Hamels. Then the Rangers’ fortunes turned. They caught fire, caught the Angels and the Astros, and hit first place. Then, with two weeks left in the season, they hit a brick wall.
They arrived at the final two games of the season two games up on Houston and three up on Los Anaheim. Win Game 161 and it’s all over.
The Rangers were running out of steam. Their starters were gassed. Their bullpen was overtaxed. So by the fifth inning of that game, in panic mode, Banister started a steady parade of relievers. Colby Lewis started, wasn’t effective, and by the time the ninth inning came around, Texas had already used six pitchers out of the bullpen to hold on to a 10-6 lead.
He was burning through relief pitchers like a teenager burns through birthday money from grandma.
He couldn’t help himself. He brought in his exhausted, overworked closer Shawn Tolleson with a four-run lead in a non-save situation.
It took three relief pitchers in the top of the ninth inning to give up five runs and blow the game, setting up what was looking like another Rangers collapse.
So, they limped to the final game of 2015 with a one-game lead over Houston.
Cole Hamels took the ball, put the team on his shoulders, and made the threadbare bullpen inconsequential with a complete game gem, and single-handedly won the Manager of the Year award.
That was October 4, 2015. That was Cole Hamels’s last complete game. Until last night.
There may be no other significance between that game and this one. This one isn’t propelling his team to the post-season. This one isn’t winning his manager any awards.
But it’s nice to remember what Cole Hamels can do when he is very very good.
After all, the Rangers have only three starters under contract for next year: Martin Perez, A.J. Griffin, and Cole Hamels. So, really two. And A.J. Griffin is so injury prone.
They are desperately going to need this Cole Hamels next season. He is all they have.
1. In a very unusual move, the Texas Rangers ran a full-page ad in a Japanese newspaper thanking Yu Darvish for his years of excellence with the team. Hey, wait a minute, I wonder if they realized Shoehie Otani might see that?
Nick Martinez (3-4, 5.07) vs. Jose Berrios (9-5, 3.57)
Game time: 1:10