"All you need is three games," Torii Hunter said when asked about Hamilton's readiness for the upcoming AL Division Series against the Yankees or Rays. "He'll be fine. He's a different breed of cat. He's a beast. When I have another kid, it's going to be Torii Josh Hamilton Hunter."
This was Torii being Torii, having some fun, but the picture was clear. The Angels' main man has a high opinion of the Rangers' superstar, a leading candidate for AL MVP honors.
"If he's healthy," Hunter said, "it changes everything as far as whoever they're playing. They have to change their way of pitching. You've got Vladdy [Guerrero], Josh Hamilton, Michael Young. They'll be pitching around Vladdy and Josh, which means Michael and [Nelson] Cruz, [Ian] Kinsler, guys like that are going to be big for them."
Hamilton has come out scalding after his long absence.
"He didn't look like his timing is that far off," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "His skills are there. He's running well, moving well. The bat speed is there. We felt we made some good pitches to him these two games, and he's hit the ball hard."
Young, with three hits and a sacrifice fly, and Elvis Andrus (two hits and a walk) also were thorns in Santana's slender side. The 27-year-old right-hander finishes his sixth season 17-10, a career high in wins, with 222 2/3 innings pitched, another career best.
"He had a terrific season for us," Scioscia said. "It's just a shame we couldn't finish it better. For Ervin to roll as well as he did and maintain his stuff, that is a good sign."
Neftali Feliz registered save No. 40, a familiar refrain to the Angels. The Rangers have 10 wins against the Angels, and Feliz has saved all 10.
"They have been a pretty good team," Feliz said. "Now, we are better than them. But every time I got a chance to save the game against anybody ... that's what I'm waiting for."
Trailing by two in the fifth, the Rangers seized the lead on Hamilton's blast in his sixth at-bat since coming back. The two-run shot to right center came after Julio Borbon walked, took third on Andrus' single and scored on Young's sacrifice fly.
The Angels' first five hitters of the game reached base, two scoring before C.J. Wilson applied the clamps and left the bases loaded. Peter Bourjos led off with a triple past the bag at third. After Reggie Willits walked, Hunter lined a single to right for his 90th RBI.
Juan Rivera walked, loading the bases for Howard Kendrick, whose single scored Willits, Hunter stopping at third. He stayed there on Maicer Izturis' pop fly, and Mike Napoli and Erick Aybar struck out.
This was the end of the Angels' damage against Wilson, who would depart after five innings having yielded two runs on four hits and two walks, striking out four.
Santana worked out of a first-and-third situation in the third when Hamilton lined to Bourjos in center and Guerrero flied out. The Rangers also had left runners at the corners in the second when Matt Treanor grounded out.
With Derek Holland taking over for Wilson in the sixth, Kendrick cracked his 41st double of the season to left center with one out. Napoli sent a deep drive to right center that was flagged down by Guerrero with flair as he neared the warning track in a full sprint.
Santana gave way to Francisco Rodriguez in the seventh after singles by Andrus and Young and Hamilton's sacrifice fly. Guerrero greeted Rodriguez with his second hit of the night, picking up RBI No. 115 in his comeback season. Guerrero needs a home run in Sunday's finale to reach 30.
In 18 games this season against his former teammates, Guerrero has produced 17 RBIs, batting .305 with five homers and five doubles. He leads the Majors with a career-best 52 two-out RBIs, and his 32 go-ahead RBIs are second to the Reds' Joey Votto.
Rodriguez lost his control after retiring Cruz, issuing three walks for another run before Bobby Cassevah retired Borbon on a force to end the inning.
The Angels (79-82) had a chance to reach .500 by taking the last two games, but the offense once again fell silent after the early noise.
Holland, former Angels right-hander Darren O'Day and Feliz kept the Angels quiet in relief of Wilson, who prepped for his Game 2 ALDS assignment by moving to 15-8.
After leading the Majors last season with a .297 batting average with runners in scoring position, the Angels are batting .241 in those game-changing situations after going 2-for-9 in game 161.