The Los Angeles Angels spent an hour after their shutout victory over Seattle waiting in the clubhouse, their eyes glued to televisions while the Oakland Athletics blew a ninth-inning lead.
When the A’s were finally finished, the Angels roared up the tunnel and onto their home field, goggles in place and champagne bottles in hand.
After a five-year wait and a few more minutes on ice, the Angels are AL West champions again.
Los Angeles clinched the division title Wednesday night, getting seven dominant innings of one-hit ball from C.J. Wilson in a 5-0 victory over the Mariners.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Albert Pujols, headed to his first AL postseason in his third year with the Angels. “But at the end of the day, it’s a better feeling when you get to hold that trophy. And that’s what we’re waiting for.”
C.J. Cron hit a three-run homer for the major league-leading Angels (95-57), who wrapped up their first division crown since 2009 when Oakland lost to Texas. The Angels charged the field afterward, celebrating with several thousand fans who stuck around chanting “Let’s go Rangers!” and “M-V-P!” for a grinning Mike Trout.
“Everybody just wanted it to happen tonight, so we’re lucky to get to celebrate with our fans,” said Wilson, who struck out seven. “I feel like we’ve been special for three years. We just haven’t put it all together until now.”
The Angels had already secured a playoff spot Monday, capping a dominant run through the summer and into September. They have won 12 of 14, and lead Baltimore (92-60) by three games for home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
“They’ve won so many games in such a short amount of time, and it’s really a credit to every guy,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who won his sixth AL West title in 11 seasons. “We’re going to enjoy the champagne and then go try to win tomorrow.”
The Angels weren’t assured of the clinching win until their five-run seventh inning broke up a pitchers’ duel between Wilson and Seattle rookie James Paxton. Howie Kendrick sparked the rally by scoring from first base when Chris Denorfia misplayed David Freese’s single to right for an error.
Wilson (13-9) earned his third straight victory in intimidating fashion, allowing only three walks and Justin Smoak’s single in a major improvement from recent starts. He escaped his only jam in the seventh, stranding two runners.
Paxton (6-3) yielded four hits and had eight strikeouts for the Mariners, who have lost six of eight. Seattle managed just one hit and is two games behind Kansas City and Oakland for the second AL wild card.
“It’s tough, but games like this happen,” Paxton said. “That’s just the way baseball works. Sometimes the other teams get the breaks. We just put this game behind us. There’s time left here for us to gain some ground on those guys. It’s not over `til it’s over.”
Paxton was even more dominant than Wilson, retiring 17 of the Angels’ first 18 hitters. Paxton allowed only two bouncing singles in the first six innings while striking out Trout three times.
Paxton kept the Mariners in contention until his teammates made two errors and reliever Danny Farquhar flopped in the seventh inning. Farquhar relieved Paxton with two outs and two runners on, but Cron mashed his 11th homer into the fake rock pile behind center field. Kole Calhoun followed with an RBI double as the Angels batted around.
Trout appears to be the likely AL MVP, but he struck out four times, including his fourth K to end the seventh, tying Baltimore’s Chris Davis for the AL lead with 173 strikeouts.
Mariners: LHP Roenis Elias headed back to Seattle for an MRI after feeling stiffness in his elbow. Manager Lloyd McClendon said Elias is probably done for the season.
Angels: Josh Hamilton was out of the starting lineup after feeling a bit sore following his return from a shoulder injury Tuesday. The cleanup hitter likely wouldn’t have started anyway against a tough left-hander.
Two aces meet in the series finale when Seattle RHP Felix Hernandez (14-5, 2.14 ERA) takes on Jered Weaver (17-8, 3.50).
SOURCE: The Associated Press