video thumbnail

TEX@LAA: Velazquez's sac fly knots the game at 1

ANAHEIM -- It appeared to Torii Hunter, his former teammate and good buddy, that Mike Napoli might have had a point or two to make to the Angels this season, his first as a rival after landing deep in the heart of Texas via Toronto last winter.

"When he plays against us," Hunter said, "it's like he definitely tries to put an exclamation on something."

Napoli lifted a majestic two-run blast in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, personally accounting for all of Texas' offense with a pair of homers in a 3-1 victory that spoiled the Angels' season finale in front of 39,612 at Angel Stadium.

The Angels finished 86-76, 10 games behind the Rangers.

The Rangers, the American League West champions for the second straight year, sewed up home-field advantage for their AL Division Series opening on Friday behind the power of Napoli, reaching the 30-homer standard for the first time. He has 20 homers in his past 67 games.

"Any team that gets in the playoffs has a chance to go all the way," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said when asked about the Rangers, who reached the World Series last season before falling to the Giants. "I liked our chances if we'd gotten there.

"They're obviously a high-caliber club. They had an incredible season. There's going to be some good baseball in the playoffs."

As the Rangers waited for word on their ALDS opponent -- the Rays or the Red Sox -- the Angels made the rounds in the clubhouse wishing each other the best as they prepared to head to their respective homes.

"I hate that this is behind us," Hunter said. "I would love to be playing in October, and so would the rest of the guys. It just didn't happen for us."

Matched against Texas southpaw Matt Harrison, young Angels right-hander Garrett Richards held his own, limiting the high-powered Rangers attack to a run on two hits in five innings.

That run came off the booming bat of Napoli, who homered in the second inning.

"He got extended on a fastball," Angels catcher Bobby Wilson said. "That's what Nap likes to do."

It was another fastball, inside, that Napoli lashed in the ninth against Jordan Walden after a single by Michael Young. It made a winning pitcher of setup man Mike Adams (2-3), with Neftali Feliz nailing down save No. 32. Walden fell to 5-5 with the loss.

"Home runs, power, that doesn't shock me from Nap," Hunter said. "He has ungodly power. He's grown into one of the elite players, hitters. He's still one of my buddies, friends. I love him to death -- and hate playing against him."

This is the third time in franchise history the Rangers have had at least three players with 30 or more homers, Napoli joining Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler.

"It was tense the whole night," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "The Angels pitchers really shut us down, but we kept battling and grinding and in the end, we prevailed."

Richards' outing ended when left fielder Jeremy Moore charged David Murphy's two-out single and threw out Napoli, who'd walked, at third base. Right fielder Mike Trout had helped Richards when he robbed Josh Hamilton against the wall in the first inning.

The Angels drew even with a run in the bottom of the fifth against Harrison.

Wilson doubled to center leading off. He moved up on a grounder and scored when Gil Velazquez lifted a sacrifice fly to center. It was the second career RBI in the Majors for Velazquez, an infielder who has played professionally since 1998 and made brief appearances for the Red Sox in 2008 and '09.

Harrison went six innings, giving up a run on five hits and one walk, striking out four.

Bobby Cassevah, whose emergence as a solid reliever was one of the Angels' positive pitching stories this season, worked two scoreless innings in relief of Richards.

Cassevah departed after Nelson Cruz's leadoff single in the eighth. Hisanori Takahashi retired the side, turning it over to Walden in the ninth.

First baseman Efren Navarro, a superb defender and disciplined hitter, delivered a pair of hits along with Trout, who continued to showcase his marvelous talents.

"This was a roller-coaster year for us," Scioscia said. "It tore us inside out. It teased us.

"We're going to turn the page on this season and start planning on what we need to do to get better. We'll get after it."

Napoli, who shared catching duties with best buddy Jeff Mathis for four seasons with the Angels, was sent to Toronto along with Juan Rivera last winter for Vernon Wells.

The Jays then shipped Napoli to the Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco in a swap that paid off handsomely.

Dividing his time among catcher, first base and DH, Napoli batted .320 with a .631 slugging and .414 on-base marks.

"Change of scenery, the stadium in Texas where the ball flies out," Hunter said, offering an explanation for Napoli's career year. "It gives you an extra 10 home runs, eight home runs. I'm pretty sure he's excited to be there, hitting in that lineup. It's pretty impressive."

Napoli produced six of his homers this season at Angel Stadium, where Texas took seven of 10 from the Angels while claiming the season series, 12-7.

"I do the same things I do anywhere else," Napoli said. "I go through the same routine. I want to do well. I just want to play hard." Comments