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Mike Napoli makes former team pay

7/20/2011

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Last year, longtime Los Angeles Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero returned to Orange County with his new team and destroyed his old one. This time around, Mike Napoli handled the honors.

"I definitely wanted to come out here and do what I did tonight," Napoli said after he reached base four times in the Rangers' 7-0 victory Tuesday night to open this important three-game series. "I wanted to win, that was the first thing, but to have the game I had it feels good inside."

Napoli played the last five seasons with the Angels and was in the organization for 11 years. They traded him to Toronto in the offseason and then were stunned when the Blue Jays quickly shipped him to Texas.

In his first trip back to Anaheim, Napoli singled, doubled and twice walked with the bases empty and two outs and came around to score. Despite the Angels throwing three righthanders in this series, Rangers manager Ron Washington wanted Napoli to start against his old team.

"That's what Nap does, he grinds out his at-bats, he doesn't chase very much and when he swings the bat he makes good contact," Washington said. "He kept two innings going."

His single in the second inning was a scorcher up the middle and his double in the sixth was a liner off the right-field fence, but his most impressive at-bat might have been his base on balls in the fourth inning off young Angels starter Tyler Chatwood. After Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland both grounded out, Napoli worked the count to 3-0. He took two called strikes to run the count full and then laid off a fastball for ball four.

Endy Chavez then singled up the middle and Napoli hustled to third. Ian Kinsler drove Napoli in with a liner to right for a 2-0 lead.

"I try to give a tough at-bat every time I'm up there, get deep in the counts and try to make the pitcher throw as many pitches and then try to get a hit," Napoli said. "I just battled tonight and it was good for me."

Good for the Rangers, too, as they extended their American League West lead over Napoli's former team to five games after taking a one-game lead into the All-Star break.

Napoli got it done behind the plate as well as at the plate, calling a strong game with fireballer Alexi Ogando on the mound. Napoli has been a big part of the Rangers' winning streak that reached 12 games Tuesday, as during the pitching staff's current run of allowing just two earned runs over the last 54 innings.

He will take Wednesday off as Yorvit Torrealba will catch Derek Holland, but Washington said he plans to go with Napoli again in Thursday afternoon's getaway game.

"I've always tried to be good on both sides," said Napoli, who raised his batting average to .261 after hitting .238 last year with Anaheim. "I've always cared about my hitting. It's not that I just took defense seriously, I want to be a complete player. I knew my job was to take care of the pitchers and keep us in games, but when it's time for me to hit, I wanted to take that seriously."

The slumping Angels are well aware.