Napoli heads for playoffs on high note

Napoli heads for playoffs hot

ANAHEIM -- Growing up in South Florida, Mike Napoli's favorite player was Darryl Strawberry. Young Mike would marvel at the height and distance the big bopper would get on his long drives.

"I saw Straw on TV today, on the Mets' telecast, I think," Napoli said Sunday. "He's my man."

Even Strawberry -- never too easily impressed -- would have to admire the moon shots Napoli, 26 and all grown up inside No. 44 for the Angels, has launched during a torrid September.

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Closing the month as arguably the hottest hitter on the planet, Napoli bashed two doubles and his 20th homer while catching a shutout from Joe Saunders and the bullpen Sunday. A 7-0 blanking of the Rangers at Angel Stadium sent the American League West champions into the postseason on a high note, savoring their franchise-record 100th win.

"I'm feeling comfortable," Napoli said. "I've been feeling like this for a while, trying to keep everything the same, go at it the same way."

Napoli's September numbers border on ridiculous. He batted .453 with six homers and 16 RBIs in 53 at-bats, and he has 18 hits in his past 27 at-bats (.667).

Napoli finished the regular season batting .273 with 20 homers in only 227 at-bats. His .586 slugging percentage is second on the club to Mark Teixeira's .632, and Napoli's .374 on-base percentage is exceeded only by Teixeira's .449.

"He's on fire," Saunders said of his batterymate. "Nap's crazy strong. He hits balls that just keep going. It'll look like a fly ball, and it just keeps going and going."

In Seattle, Napoli hit a ball estimated at 447 feet that teammates thought was closer to 475, a rocket to center field.

"That one in Seattle, that was one of the longest ones you'll ever see," Torii Hunter said. "When the big man gets into one, it's gone. It's like it's got something extra on it, a rocket boost or something."

Napoli shrugged when asked if he could explain it.

"I really can't," he said. "Sometimes I'll hit a ball to right-center, and I'm thinking it doesn't have enough, and it just keeps going. That ball today, I thought I hit it OK. It was kind of high, and I was talking to it a little bit."

Since returning to action Aug. 9 after shoulder irritation sidelined him for a month, Napoli has batted .388.

"I felt good when I went down to [Class A] Rancho [Cucamonga]," Napoli said. "I wanted to get my swing right, and right away it felt good."

Napoli figures to catch Games 1 and 3 of the American League Division Series, started by John Lackey and Saunders, against the Red Sox. He's expected to yield to Jeff Mathis, who works well with Ervin Santana, in Game 2.

It is not likely Napoli will be used as a designated hitter, which will be available for Vladimir Guerrero if his right knee isn't sound.

"Nap's on fire," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "and he caught a great game today. But we're only carrying two catchers [in the postseason] -- and we've got other guys who are swinging the bats well now."

Yes, but nobody is swinging the bat quite like Mike Napoli, with his Strawberry-esque blasts.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.