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After loss, Rangers focused on Rays in ALDS

After loss, Rangers focused on Rays in ALDS

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ARLINGTON -- The Rangers honored their best players and their fans on Sunday afternoon, but it was Josh Hamilton who once again attracted the most attention and reaction.

On a day of bows and ovations, Hamilton drew the biggest when public address announcer Chuck Morgan informed a near-sellout crowd at the Ballpark in Arlington that he had officially wrapped up the American League batting title.

Hamilton, in his third game back after missing almost a month with two small fractures in his right ribcage, went 1-for-4 with a single in the Rangers' 6-2 loss to the Angels in the final game of the regular season. The Rangers kick off the American League Division Series against the Rays at Tropicana Field on Wednesday at 12:37 p.m. CT.

Hamilton finished with a .359 batting average, becoming the third Rangers player to win the title. He received a standing ovation when the announcement was made -- a bit prematurely, perhaps -- in the top of the eighth inning.

"Getting to the playoffs means a lot more, but this means all the hard work and the changes I made paid off," Hamilton said.

The Rangers are going to the playoffs after ending the season with a record of 90-72, tying the 1996 team for the third-best record in club history.

"We're excited about the opportunity we have," third baseman Michael Young said. "I know we're facing a good team, but everybody in postseason is a good team. Everybody's got talent and everybody has worked hard to get to this point. Now it's a matter of execution."

Health is certainly important, and the Rangers believe Hamilton is healthy going into the playoffs. More importantly, Hamilton believes he is healthy. He played nine innings in left field on Sunday while, in four plate appearances, he grounded out hard twice, flied to center and lined a single to right. In three games since his return, he was 3-for-11 and it reassured him of any concerns about his health going into the playoffs.

"It does," Hamilton said. "That little fall I had [in the first inning] of the first game answered some questions, and swinging the bat, I cut it loose [Saturday] night and it was fine. There's nothing I'm concerned about, and nothing preventing me from going out there and performing."

Hamilton also finished the season with a .390 batting average at home, the highest ever by a Ranger at either the Ballpark or Arlington Stadium.

"He's an MVP-caliber player," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "Having a guy like that back in our lineup is important. He's getting his timing back, he's hit the ball hard the last couple of days ... we're really happy to have him back in our lineup."

Hamilton was still in the lineup long after others had taken their bows and left. Manager Ron Washington started his regular lineup but made wholesale changes after the fifth inning.

Outfielder Nelson Cruz, shortstop Elvis Andrus, Kinsler and Young were all accorded large ovations as they were replaced defensively one by one before the top of the sixth.

Rangers starter Colby Lewis went five innings, allowing only a two-run home run by Hideki Matsui in the fourth inning. He left with the game tied, 2-2, and finished the regular season at 12-13 with a 3.72 ERA.

"Colby did a great job," Washington said. "We just wanted to get five out of him. We wanted to let those guys get some appreciation from the fans."

Vladimir Guerrero also got his due. He batted with one out in the sixth and, after getting to home plate, was called back to the dugout so he could get his ovation. Matt Treanor went in to pinch-hit for him.

Angels pitcher Dan Haren seemed a little peeved by the excess, and his first pitch to Treanor was high and tight. Some Rangers started jawing at Haren from the dugout.

"It was a little weird," Haren said. "The thing is, I don't know the history, if we've done something like that in the past. It seemed a little out of the ordinary."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who personally congratulated Washington after the game, did not have a problem with it.

"Some guys thought it was maybe a little over the top," Scioscia said. "I had no problem with it. It was their party; they certainly deserved to celebrate however they want and send themselves off into the playoffs."

If anybody had the right to complain it would be Rangers reliever Dustin Nippert. He had to stand out on the mound in the top of the sixth and wait while his teammates were taking their bows. When he finally went to work, Angels leadoff hitter Peter Bourjos hit his second pitch over the left-field wall for a go-ahead home run.

The Angels later added three runs in the ninth off of reliever Mark Lowe, who was trying to win a spot on the playoff roster.

Lowe, who made three appearances this weekend after missing over four months because of back surgery, instead will be sent to Arizona to continue pitching. Matt Harrison will go with him. Infielder Cristian Guzman and pitchers Rich Harden, Doug Mathis and Pedro Strop are being sent home.

Everybody else is headed for Tampa Bay -- including Josh Hamilton.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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