Angels rout Mariners to secure playoff berth
Shoemaker, Pujols lead charge before leaving with injuries
ANAHEIM -- The Angels now have an "X" next to their name in the standings, which is a good thing, because if you spent any time in their clubhouse after Monday night's 8-1 victory over the Mariners, you'd have no idea they had just become the first team in baseball to clinch a spot in the postseason.
There was no champagne, no music, no celebrating; hardly even a smile.
"Just one step," first baseman Albert Pujols called it. "We have three more to go."
"All business, dude," right fielder Kole Calhoun said. "It's nice to clinch a spot, but there's obviously bigger things in mind."
"We're excited, obviously," center fielder Mike Trout conceded. "But we have one thing on our mind -- winning the division."
The Angels, postseason primed for the first time since 2009, can do that as early as Wednesday. They're 10 1/2 games up on the A's for first place in the American League West, their magic number to clinch a division title down to three after their 11th win in the last 12 days.
Their latest victory, which saw the offense score seven runs against Hisashi Iwakuma and Matt Shoemaker shut out Seattle through the first seven frames, only put them one step closer to ensuring that their season won't come down to a singular Wild Card game.
In a sense, it also brought them full circle.
Remember the first series of the season, when the Mariners outscored the Angels by 18 runs during a three-game sweep in Southern California and their season looked doomed before it barely began?
Remember April, when hardly anybody knew who Shoemaker even was?
Shoemaker ultimately gave up just one run in 7 2/3 innings, moving to 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA and exiting only because of some left-side discomfort that may have been more scary than serious. After the game, a reporter asked Angels manager Mike Scioscia what Shoemaker has meant to his team.
"Besides saving our season?" said Scioscia, who deemed the injury "mild" but will wait on the rookie's Tuesday MRI before exhaling.
"It's one of the best stories that I've been around in my career, just to see a young man get a chance, with confidence, and go out there and do what Matt is doing this year. And he has saved our season."
Iwakuma entered 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his career against the Angels, but an offense that came in averaging more than eight runs in nine games without cleanup hitter Josh Hamilton got to him early.
It started with Pujols, who came up with two outs in a scoreless game in the bottom of the third, got behind in the count, 0-2, then fouled off four straight pitches before lining a low splitter over third baseman Kyle Seager's head for a three-run double.
Pujols labored into second base, grabbed his left hamstring and left with a cramp that isn't considered serious.
The impact of his hit was.
"I thought that at-bat really wore on Kuma and he never recovered after that," said manager Lloyd McClendon, his Mariners now two games back of the Royals for the second AL Wild Card spot.
"That was huge," Calhoun said. "It changed the whole dynamic of that game."
Howie Kendrick, batting .457 since taking over in the cleanup spot on Sept. 5, followed with an RBI double. David Freese, with seven hits in his previous 19 at-bats, then lined a bullet over the center-field fence for a solo homer in the fourth inning. Five batters later, reliever Dominic Leone intentionally walked Trout with first base open, two outs and Pujols out of the game, then served up a two-run single to Pujols' light-hitting replacement, Tony Campana.
As has been the case all season, the Angels got contributions everywhere.
They have the best record in the Majors since Garrett Richards went down with a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 20, an event many thought would ruin the Angels' season. Now here they are, clinching a postseason berth faster than any team in baseball and needing to win just six of their next 12 games to notch the first 100-win season in the Majors since 2012.
"It was just a matter of time, when you put a group of guys together, and we start bonding," Trout said. "The team chemistry is awesome. We pick each other up. One through nine, even pitching -- if someone has a bad day, on the mound or at the plate, the guy behind him steps up. That's the biggest thing this year."