Texas catcher Mike Napoli, right, celebrates with teammate Michael Young… (Kirby Lee / U.S. Presswire )
While high wild-card drama played out in Baltimore and Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, the Angels closed a frustrating season by watching Mike Napoli rub a little more salt into their wounds.
Napoli hit two home runs, including a game-winning two-run shot in the ninth inning, to lift the Texas Rangers to a 3-1 victory in the regular-season finale in Angel Stadium.
Napoli, the former Angels catcher who was dealt for Vernon Wells in one of the most lopsided trades in years, sent the Rangers to Texas, where they will have home-field in the American League division series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Had the Rangers lost, they would have flown to New York to play the Yankees in the first round.
Napoli eased his team's travel burden and brightened their playoff hopes by crushing a 435-foot homer to center field against Garrett Richards in the second inning and a towering two-run shot inside the left-field foul pole against closer Jordan Walden.
He closed with a .320 average, .414 on-base percentage and a league-high .631 slugging percentage. He hit a career-high 30 home runs in only 369 at-bats, drove in 75 runs and scored 72.
Wells, whose $23-million salary is four times more than Napoli's $5.8-million salary, hit .218 with a major league-worst .248 on-base percentage, a .412 slugging percentage, 25 homers, 66 RBIs and 60 runs in 505 at-bats.
"When he plays us he definitely tries to put an exclamation point on something," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said of Napoli. "We knew he could hit homers — that doesn't shock me — but the average is pretty impressive. He's grown into one of the elite players in the game, so congratulations to him."
There were no such salutations flowing from Detroit to Anaheim.
Sports talk radio in Detroit was abuzz with criticism of Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, who pulled Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver from their scheduled starts Tuesday and Wednesday and started five rookies in each game.
The Tigers needed the Angels to win at least one of the games to gain home-field advantage and avoid the Yankees.
But Scioscia bristled at any suggestion he wasn't honoring the integrity of the game by sitting so many regulars, saying Santana "has battled forearm stiffness all year," and Weaver "has had multiple issues with his upper back, which flared up recently."
First baseman Mark Trumbo was diagnosed Monday with a stress fracture in his right foot, and second baseman Howie Kendrick sprained his left wrist Tuesday night.
Scioscia said infielder Maicer Izturis has a "foot injury" and that Hunter has a "sore quadriceps." Hunter was hurt the first two months of the season but recovered by the All-Star break and has been the team's top hitters since Aug. 1, batting .324 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs.
"We're putting out the guys who are healthy," Scioscia said. "We absolutely understand how important the integrity of the game is. If Howie, Torii and Maicer were healthy, they'd be playing."
Weaver (18-8) threw a career-high 2352/3 innings but told reporters Tuesday that "this is the best I've felt at the end of a year in a long time."
Asked after Wednesday's game whether he could have played, Hunter smiled and said, "I'm not going to answer that at all."
Santana (11-12) threw a career-high 2282/3 innings, and though he sprained his right elbow in 2009, he did not miss a start this season.
"If they were not at a heightened risk, they'd be pitching," Scioscia said. "They're like horses you've taken the whip to, and now they're physically beat. They might have one more start in them, but I don't know how effective they'd be."
Though Richards made only his third big league start and was backed by a lineup that included September call-ups Gil Velazquez, Efren Navarro and Jeremy Moore, the Angels were plenty competitive Wednesday night.
Richards gave up one run and two hits in five innings, relievers Bobby Cassevah and Hisanori Takahashi combined for three scoreless innings, and the Angels tied the score, 1-1, in the fifth when Bobby Wilson doubled, took third on a groundout and scored on Velazquez's sacrifice fly.
But Michael Young singled with one out in the ninth, Napoli homered, and the Tigers flew to New York, while the Rangers flew home.