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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Napoli (Nearly) Does It All: Angels 5, Mariners 3

Not only had Mike Napoli never had a walkoff homer prior to last night, he'd never had a walkoff hit of any kind at any level. That changed in a big way last night as he blasted a two-run shot into the Angels bullpen to get his team to 90 wins and extend the best record in baseball to a game and a half over the idle Tampa Bay Rays. This was a busy game despite the low score, with a man thrown out at the plate in the first inning for both sides: I have to say that this game featured three infield singles by the Mariners, and I can't think of a game in which the Angels gave up so many; one was Wladimir Balentien's in the fourth that inexperienced third baseman Robb Quinlan would have done well to hold onto. Instead he threw it into the M's dugout, letting Balentien reach second. (Fortunately for him the two-out error was meaningless, as Joe Saunders struck out Matt Tuiasosopo.)

Joe Saunders wasn't sharp but he was effective, squeaking out a by-the-numbers quality start. He gave up a couple runs in the fifth in a two-out rally where he just could not contain the two through four hitters, all of which singled against him. He also hit a batter, the rather beat-up Kenji Johjima in the sixth; Johjima took a foul ball to his knee during the game that left him staggered for a while.

The Angels' offense didn't do a whole lot against converted reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith, but they managed to tie the game in the seventh on Juan Rivera's leadoff double and Mike Napoli's sac fly, leaving him with a no-decision. Mike Scioscia was more impressed with that sac fly than Napoli's subsequent home run:

Napoli's sacrifice fly on an 0-2 count from Roy Corcoran in the seventh inning is what impressed Scioscia the most. The fly ball hit to center field was just deep enough to score Juan Rivera from third base and tied the game at 3.

"I really liked the sacrifice fly," Scioscia said. "It was a tough pitch and a contact situation so you really have to put that ball in play. He really shortened his swing and got the ball into center field."

The Mariners have a couple conversion projects on their roster this year, Rowland-Smith being one of them, and Brandon Morrow the other. They'll likely both feature prominently in the 2009 team.

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