Angels eliminate Rangers from playoff contention
The Texas Rangers had their ace on the mound and the desperate motivation of their flickering playoff hopes.
With their own postseason ticket already punched, the Angels had a fill-in starting pitcher and a patchwork lineup of youngsters and backups.
The way Sean O'Sullivan saw it, everything was lined up perfectly for Los Angeles to win the Rangers' last meaningful game of the year.
Bobby Abreu homered, O'Sullivan earned his first win in two months and the Angels eliminated Texas from playoff contention with a 5-2 victory Tuesday night.
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Texas' third straight loss clinched the AL wild card for the Boston Red Sox, who will meet the Angels in the first round for the third consecutive postseason. With their 93rd victory, the Angels earned another chance to beat Boston, which has won all four of the clubs' previous postseason meetings.
One day after the Angels clinched their third straight AL West title with an 11-0 victory over the second-place Rangers (85-72), Los Angeles took it easy, resting two-thirds of its usual starting lineup. Yet pinch-hitter Mike Napoli had a two-run single as the Angels improbably battered Scott Feldman, while O'Sullivan (4-2) combined with three relievers on a five-hitter.
"It's almost like you're more loose in our situation," said O'Sullivan, who threw a no-hitter in Triple-A since his last victory for the Angels on July 21. "We're just out there having a good time playing the game, and I think that's when you should play your best baseball."
Meanwhile, Feldman (17-7) had every reason to be tense, and it showed. He has lost three of his last four starts in a blow to his Cy Young Award hopes, and the Angels jumped on his control problems for seven hits and three walks.
"It's never a good feeling to get eliminated, regardless of how many games (are left)," said Feldman, who couldn't get out of the fourth inning. "Hopefully next year, we'll be doing the eliminating. Hopefully we keep a lot of these guys around."
Although manager Ron Washington led the Rangers on their most interesting stretch run in a while, he lamented his club's missed chances in the AL West and wild-card races.
"We had opportunities in both areas, and it lies with us," Washington said. "We didn't get it done. Boston ended up getting in there by default. There's not enough games left on the chart, but we're still going to try to win as many as we can down the stretch."
Brian Fuentes worked the ninth for his major league-leading 46th save, a career high and a new AL record for the most saves by a pitcher in his first season with a team. Joe Borowski had 45 for Cleveland in 2007.
O'Sullivan allowed three hits over five easy innings as a late replacement for Scott Kazmir, who was pulled from his start about two hours before the game. Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia also said Jered Weaver and John Lackey won't make their scheduled starts in this series to give all three pitchers a little extra rest.
They might need every advantage they can get against the Red Sox, who beat the Angels in the playoffs' first round in 2004, 2007 and 2008. Add the 1986 AL championship series, and Boston has won 12 of its past 13 postseason games against the Angels.
Scioscia also scratched Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Napoli from his regular lineup Tuesday. Leadoff hitter Chone Figgins, Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero were the only regular Los Angeles starters in the lineup, and all three played only half the game.
But Abreu hit his 15th homer in the first inning, and Jeff Mathis had a run-scoring single in the second. Napoli's bases-loaded drive chased Feldman in the fourth, and Howie Kendrick added an RBI double in the seventh.
"You go out to win every day, not just when it's for a playoff (berth)," Figgins said. "We have the same mentality for every game. We still have to go out and win ballgames and keep playing at the level that got us to the playoffs."
David Murphy homered and Michael Young had two hits in his second game back from injury for the Rangers, whose admirable playoff run finally lost all its steam. Texas stayed in the race until the final week, but a September swoon doomed its run at the fourth playoff berth in franchise history.
Texas also lost cleanup hitter Marlon Byrd in the first inning after he injured his right hip while attempting to beat out a grounder. Byrd fell flat on his face beyond first base before limping to the dugout.
Before the game, Texas shut down outfielder Josh Hamilton for the rest of the season, deciding the slugger shouldn't push through the pain from a pinched nerve in his back.
Figgins drew two walks to give him 101 this season, the most by an Angels hitter since Troy Glaus had 107 in 2001. ... Angels rookie Chris Pettit got his first major league hit in his first plate appearance in the seventh inning with a single to left off Pedro Strop. C Bobby Wilson got his first hit of the season, an eighth-inning double. ... Angels SS Brandon Wood snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a fourth-inning double.