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Sunday, July 25, 2010
Rangers reax: Are A's now team to beat?

By Jeff Caplan


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The way the Texas Rangers are winning and Josh Hamilton is hammering the baseball, a day off Monday might seem like the last thing on this team's mind. Perhaps, but Hamilton will gladly take it.

"It's my wife's birthday and it couldn't have been scheduled any better," Hamilton said after going 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the Rangers' 6-4 win Sunday night to take three of four from the Los Angeles Angels.

Tommy Hunter moved to 8-0 on the season, giving up three runs on three hits through 6 1/3 innings before three relievers held it from there. All-Star closer Neftali Feliz picked up his 28th save, but not before making things just a tad bit interesting in the ninth with runners at first and third and nobody out.

But, that's the way things are going for the Rangers. Defense, pitching and Hamilton at the plate are conspiring to leave the AL West in their dust. Hamilton raised his major league-best batting average to .357 after smoking a two-run triple and a run-scoring single in his first two at-bats followed by a single to left in his third.

"The biggest thing is trusting myself to do the things that I'm doing," Hamilton said. "I'm not trying to hit it out every time."

Hamilton's offense and defense were both on display during this big weekend series that drew more than 170,000 fans and more than 38,000 to each game. It's almost hard to remember how badly last season went for Hamilton, who struggled with injuries and never found his swing.

"This is not just healthy Josh," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "This is ridiculous Josh."

Kinsler called Hamilton the best player in the league, who should win a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and, yes, even the MVP. Now, Hamilton becomes the problem of the Oakland A's, a scrappy club that's moved to within a half-game of the Angels for second place and 7.5 back of the Rangers. Texas entered the four-game series with the Angels up by five games. They could have finished the weekend anywhere from one game up to nine up.

"It's big when you're playing a four-game series. You want to win it. We did," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I'm very comfortable with seven, but I'm not comfortable with where we are. We have another tough series coming up with Oakland."

Obviously, a strong showing by the A's at Rangers Ballpark in the three-game series starting Tuesday can give Oakland, which is 3-3 this season against the Rangers, momentum. After the series, the Rangers hit the road for nine games on the West Coast, starting in Anaheim, then Seattle and finally Oakland.

"We have to continue to play well," Kinsler said. "It's still early."

*Hunter fielded a line drive off his right hip in the sixth inning. He still managed to get the out and continue pitching. Washington said the 6-foot-3, 280-pounder took it off the belt area and said, "He had enough to absorb the shock."

Hunter, as he's done after each of his eight wins, heaped credit on the team's defense and lineup, the catchers and coaches. Finally, he gave a hint of what he thinks he's doing right to have run his record to 8-0 with a 2.31 ERA. "I'm throwing strikes, making them put it in play," Hunter said. "Fortunately, I'm throwing strikes and keeping those guys off the base paths."

Hunter had a stretch in which he retired 15 of 16 batters and 12 in a row. Catcher Bengie Molina said, "His ball moves so much on either side of the plate. He's so tough to hit. Whenever he hits his spots, he has a chance to win."

*Kinsler said the team took notice Sunday when the Angels traded for right-handed pitcher Dan Haren. "You definitely notice. You still need to beat them and you're still going to face tough pitching and you still have to beat tough pitching."

*The Rangers had three more baserunners snuffed out, but Washington said it doesn't bother him. He said he's fine with aggressive baserunning and that "he's not going to take that from them."

*Washington said he removed Hunter from the game after Hideki Matsui lined Hunter's 71st pitch into the right-field bleachers because he noticed Hunter was leaving his pitches up. Two of the three hits Hunter allowed were home runs. Torii Hunter launched one to dead center in the second inning. Tommy Hunter was upset with himself on the Matsui homer for going with away from his game plan and throwing a four-seam fastball.

*The Rangers have gone 12-3 in their last 15 series since the beginning of June.

*Chris Davis walked twice for just his second multi-walk game in two seasons. The other was May 21, 2009 at Detroit.

*Elvis Andrus snapped an 0-for-9 skid in the first three games of the series with two hits Sunday, including a double.

*Kinsler has reached base safely via a hit or walk in 25 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the majors. Mark Teixeira has a 41-game streak going.