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Napoli earns rematch with Beckett

Napoli earns rematch with Beckett

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ANAHEIM -- Josh Beckett certainly hasn't forgotten Mike Napoli. When a guy collects eight total bases on two swings with roughly 850 feet worth of carry -- in a postseason game, at that -- it tends to stick with you.

If Beckett thought he might not have to see Napoli in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, he was mistaken. The big man from Florida with the big swing will be behind the plate when Jered Weaver throws the first pitch to Jacoby Ellsbury.

"I'll be feeling good lately," Napoli said. "I was hoping to get out there and play some."

His two homers in Game 3 of the 2008 ALDS at Fenway Park kept the Angels in a match they eventually claimed in 12 innings after Napoli singled and scored on Erick Aybar's single. It was their lone postseason win, and it went to Weaver with two innings of relief.

It was the game of Napoli's life -- going deep twice against the great Beckett, scoring the winning run after a third hit, calling 226 pitches from six pitchers -- and it takes its place with the finest individual performances in franchise history.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia is fully aware of all of that, but he wouldn't be going with Napoli if he hadn't tightened up his game defensively down the stretch and renewed a simpatico relationship with Weaver.

2009 ERA/CATCHER COMPARISON
Catcher Innings Team ERA
Napoli 758 4.86
Mathis 657 3.99
Wilson 24 3.00

"He's worked well with Jered recently," Scioscia said in his office before Game 1 while disclosing that Napoli will start the second game. "Nap also had good rapport with [Scott] Kazmir, even Joe [Saunders]."

Over the course of the past two seasons, Mathis has been the superior defensive catcher. This has enabled him to essentially share the job with Napoli, whose bat is measurably more productive.

Napoli this season batted .272 with .492 slugging and a .350 on-base percentages. Mathis' numbers were .211, .320 and .277, respectively.

Angels pitchers enjoyed a 3.99 ERA with Mathis catching, compared to 4.86 with Napoli.

Weaver's ERA was 3.38 with Mathis handling 141 1/3 innings and 4.59 in Napoli's 68 2/3.

Scioscia is mindful of those numbers but manages his catchers instinctively, drawing on his own vast history with the job dating to his playing days with the Dodgers.

"At some positions," Scioscia said, "if a guy gets hot, you'd stick with him. Catching is different. I really don't think with the catching position -- not that Mike's the guy -- you can take a guy who's going to take a pitcher backward and think you're going to be further ahead."

Napoli has caught 758 innings this season, with Mathis handling 657. Mathis has thrown out 24.6 percent of basestealers, compared to Napoli's 14.9 clip. The Angels are carrying a third backstop, Bobby Wilson, who caught 24 innings with a 3.00 ERA.

In 2008, Mathis caught for long stretches with Napoli on the disabled list twice with shin and shoulder injuries. Angels pitchers had a 3.65 ERA in Mathis' 769 innings, compared to 4.45 in Napoli's 625.

Weaver was better with Mathis (3.79 in 109 1/3 innings) than with Napoli (5.21 in 67 1/3 innings) in 2008.

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

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