Rangers claim home field for ALDS
Texas will face wildcard winner
Mike Napoli talked to his fly ball while it sailed down the left-field line at Angel Stadium, quietly coaxing it into the stands on the right side of the pole.
Napoli got the last word on his former club, and on a landmark regular season for his new teammates.
After posting the best record in franchise history, the Texas Rangers are roaring back into the postseason for another chance to win it all — and thanks to Napoli's pleas, they'll start the quest at home.
Napoli broke a tie in the ninth inning with his fourth homer in two games, and the Texas Rangers finally clinched home-field advantage in the AL division series with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night.
"It was a great feeling, but mostly because it keeps us home for the first series," Napoli said of the jubilant scene in the Rangers' dugout after the two-run shot — his fourth homer in the final 14 innings. "I was talking to it in my mind, 'Just stay fair!'"
Napoli, the longtime Angels catcher, also homered in the second inning for the Rangers, who swept the Angels to set a club record with their 96th victory - including six straight heading into the postseason.
With 14 wins in their final 16 games, the Rangers (96-66) held off Detroit (95-67) for the right to host wild-card winner Tampa Bay at Rangers Ballpark on Friday. Although Texas ascribes little significance to the win beyond travel convenience, Napoli is grateful he's not headed to Yankee Stadium on Thursday.
"I looked (at the scoreboard) every inning, I'm not going to lie," Napoli said. "But we went out and controlled what we could control."
Seven innings after Napoli homered over the ficus trees in deepest center field, he connected in the ninth off Angels rookie closer Jordan Walden (5-5), capping his career year with another huge game at the park he once called home.
"It felt like we won the World Series, but we actually just won an opportunity to go back to Texas," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We certainly didn't want the five-hour trip to New York."
Mike Adams (2-3) pitched the eighth, and Neftali Feliz picked up his 32nd save.
With 10 wins in their last 11 regular-season games, the Rangers broke the 1999 club's mark for victories, improving their record for the fourth straight season under Washington.
The Rangers collected their luggage in a loose pile in the center of their locker room at Angel Stadium before the game even though they still didn't know where they would spend the weekend. C.J. Wilson will start Friday's division series opener in Arlington, and Washington said Derek Holland will start Game 2.
The Rangers packed for the trip home while the Boston-Baltimore and New York-Tampa Bay marathon games played on televisions in their clubhouse. Either the Red Sox or the Rays will visit Texas on Friday.
"It's nice to know we're going home," leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler said. "Sleeping in our own beds, getting into our home routine. It's nice to watch these games knowing they're coming to us."
Texas left-hander Matt Harrison yielded five hits and a run in six innings during a strong tuneup for the postseason, while Garrett Richards pitched five innings of two-hit ball in his third career start for the Angels.
Gil Velasquez drove in the only run for the Angels, who were in playoff contention until Monday. Los Angeles (86-76) lost six of its last seven.
"This was a roller-coaster year for us," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I mean, it really tore us inside and out, and it teased us. We thought we had a chance to get there, but we just didn't play at a high enough level towards the end of the season. But we're going to turn the page on it, and it's going to start tomorrow."
Napoli hit six homers this season at Angel Stadium - three more than Bobby Abreu, who struck out to end the game for Los Angeles. Napoli dominated the final innings against the Angels, who traded him in a package for Vernon Wells last winter.
Napoli finished with career-highs of 30 homers and 75 RBIs in Texas, while Wells went 1 for 4 to end his dismal season at .218 with 25 homers — and the three catchers who replaced Napoli have all been offensive disasters.
"When he plays us, it's like he's definitely trying to put an exclamation point on something," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "He's swinging the bat well. We all knew he could hit home runs and that he had the potential … but the average (.320), that's what's pretty impressive. He's grown into one of the elite hitters in the game."
The Angels wrapped up their 50th anniversary season by missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2000-01, Scioscia's first two years in charge. Los Angeles still had the AL's sixth-best record, winning at least 80 games for the eighth straight season - easily the best stretch in franchise history.
Richards, a first-round draft pick in 2009, made the best appearance of his short major-league career in his first start since Aug. 15. He issued three walks, but paid for only one bad pitch when Napoli homered in the second.
Tigers 5, Indians 4
Miguel Cabrera singled and doubled, all but wrapping up the American League batting title, and Jhonny Peralta hit a tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning to help the Detroit Tigers beat the Cleveland Indians.
Cabrera entered the day hitting .343, five points ahead of Michael Young of Texas and Adrian Gonzalez of Boston. He raised his average another point against the Indians, making it almost impossible for the other two to catch him.
Peralta hit his 21st homer of the season off Vinnie Pestano (1-2) to give the Tigers the lead after Ryan Perry (2-0) allowed Cleveland to tie it at 4 in the top of the eighth.
Jose Valverde pitched the ninth for his 49th save in 49 chances.
Cleveland manager Manny Acta was ejected in the first inning, enabling bench coach Tim Tolman to take over in his final game before moving to an undetermined role elsewhere in the organization. Tolman said before the game he has Parkinson's disease.
The Indians led 3-0, and starter Zach McAllister went five innings without allowing an earned run, but the bullpen couldn't hold on.
Detroit took a 4-3 lead in the seventh when Wilson Betemit tripled and pinch-runner Danny Worth scored on a wild pitch.
Cleveland tied it in the eighth when Perry allowed a double to Travis Hafner, a pair of walks and then a sacrifice fly by Jack Hannahan.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he had a piece of paper with all sorts of batting average scenarios on it, hinting he might pull Cabrera if he thought it would help him win the batting title. But Detroit needed him in there to try to win the game, and Cabrera did his part.
Cabrera led the American League in home runs in 2008 and RBIs last year. According to STATS, LLC, he's in line to join two other active players with a "career triple crown" — Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.
Tigers starter Rick Porcello allowed three runs and five hits in six-plus innings.