ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - The final day of the Los Angeles Angels' disappointing season already was a bitter experience. Mike Napoli's two trots around the bases of his former home field just made it slightly more acidic.
And the Angels will have to wait six months to get this taste out of their mouths.
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 Angels on Wednesday night.
Gil Velasquez drove in the only run for the Angels, who have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in a decade. Los Angeles (86-76) was in playoff contention until Monday, but lost six of its last seven and nine of its last 13 to finish September at .500 (13-13).
``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, 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.
The Angels wrapped up their 50th anniversary season by missing the playoffs, yet manager Mike Scioscia hopes fans won't forget what they've built. 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.
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.
Napoli's departure turned out to be a harbinger of everything that went wrong for the Angels this season.
Napoli hit six homers this season at Angel Stadium - three more than Bobby Abreu, who struck out to end the season for Los Angeles. Napoli even hit four homers in 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.'
With 14 wins in their final 16 games, the Rangers (96-66) held off Detroit (95-67) for the right to host 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.
Walden made the AL All-Star team and earned 32 saves, but also blew 10 chances.
``Overall, I'd say I had a decent season,' Walden said. ``I mean, towards the end right here, I kind of fell apart, but there were good times in the season and a lot of bad. So it was a good learning process for me, and I'm ready for next spring.'
Mike Adams (2-3) pitched the eighth, and Neftali Feliz picked up his 32nd save.
Before the game, Scioscia bristled at the suggestion Los Angeles wasn't going all-out to beat the Rangers - to the detriment of the Tigers. Angels starters Hunter, Howie Kendrick, Maicer Izturis and Abreu all were out of the lineup Wednesday night, while 18-game winner Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana were scratched from their final starts.
Scioscia insisted every missing regular had a legitimate injury, while Weaver was ``at heightened risk' after pitching hard down the stretch.
``We absolutely understand the integrity of the game and how important it is,' Scioscia said in a rare burst of passion from the Angels' cool bench boss. ``We're putting out the talent that we can to try to win ballgames. There's no doubt that the integrity of the game is something we take very seriously. We went as hard as we could, as long as we could.'
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.
NOTES: Angels 1B Efren Navarro's third-inning single was his first major league hit. Navarro, a native of nearby Lynwood with 15 family members in attendance, played the final two games at first base with rookie slugger Mark Trumbo shut down for the season with a broken foot. ... The Angels drew more than 3 million fans for the ninth straight season, finishing with 3,166,321. They even outdrew the crosstown Dodgers, who didn't crack 3 million.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved