Angels wrap up 5th West title in last 6 years

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Angels soaked the jersey in beer, champagne and tears, holding Nick Adenhart's No. 34 high in the middle of the celebration he missed.

Los Angeles is headed back to the playoffs for the sixth time in eight years, and the Angels intend to go with the memory of their late teammate alongside them. The 22-year-old pitcher's death in an April car accident roiled their season early on, but it couldn't sink this resilient team.

Kendry Morales homered and drove in three runs, and the Angels wasted no time clinching their third straight AL West title with an 11-0 victory over the second-place Texas Rangers on Monday night.

Ervin Santana pitched a seven-hitter for his fourth career shutout, while Maicer Izturis had three hits and two RBIs to wrap up the Angels' fifth division crown in six years. Los Angeles (92-64) will open at home in the best-of-five first round next week -- most likely against Boston, a familiar nemesis. The Red Sox need one win or a Texas loss to earn the AL wild card.

About 10 minutes into their clubhouse celebration, the players grabbed Adenhart's jersey and gave it a dousing. The Angels have taken Adenhart's jersey on every road trip and kept his locker intact in memory, and reliever Kevin Jepsen brought the shirt back to the clubhouse from the dugout for the celebration.

"We remembered Nick before we started," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We've played the whole year with heavy hearts. But it was never about us, and it isn't about us. It's all about supporting Nick's family in any small way, and we're going to bring Nick's memory forward."

Angels players returned to the field and several grabbed a hose from the grounds crew, using it to spray water on fans behind both dugouts. Then the Angels jogged to the outfield and reverently touched Adenhart's photo and No. 34 on the outfield fence. Players posed for a team photo in front of the image.

"We had a rough start, lost a dear friend and teammate, and we didn't do much in the first half," outfielder Torii Hunter said. "We made this a very special season, though. We're going to celebrate tonight, and then get ready for what's next."

Adenhart's death hours after his strong season debut was the most painful of several major obstacles for the Angels, who persevered through early season injuries, midseason lulls and a late-summer slump for their productive offense. Yet they passed Texas atop the division in mid-July -- and needing one victory in this four-game series to secure the division title, the Angels swiftly eliminated any suspense.

With Morales and Vladimir Guerrero propelling the offense, Los Angeles took a 7-0 lead in the third inning against rookie Tommy Hunter (9-5), who struggled mightily in the shortest start of his promising season. Erick Aybar and Guerrero drove in two runs apiece, while Bobby Abreu had three hits.

After the final out, the Angels formed a mob on the field around Santana (8-8), slapping his shoulders and rubbing his head. Although the right-hander is likely to be in Los Angeles' bullpen in the playoffs, Santana made sure Scioscia won't forget him, earning his first win in seven starts and second shutout this season.

The Angels made just three playoff appearances in the franchise's first 39 seasons before Scioscia took over in 2000. Los Angeles has been a postseason fixture during the former Dodgers catcher's decade in the dugout, winning the 2002 World Series in the Angels' only wild-card appearance.

And getting pushed by the Rangers down the stretch could benefit the Angels in October, if last season's performance is any guide.

Los Angeles clinched the AL West title with 17 games to play on the way to a major league-leading 100 victories in 2008, but that 2½-week stretch with little motivation was seen as a factor in Los Angeles' listless effort in its division series loss to Boston, the Angels' likely playoff foe for the third straight year.

"After the last few years, everyone feels that it's time for us to go to the next level," said owner Arte Moreno, who partied with his players in the clubhouse. "We had a meeting about a week or 10 days after the end of last season, and we talked about what we needed to do to get better. Basically, that was our goal. I tell people all the time, 'Why should I be owning a team if I'm not trying to win?'"

Michael Young had two hits in his return from a hamstring injury for the Rangers, on the verge of elimination from the pennant race after fighting to stay in contention all summer despite several major injuries.

Texas (85-71) trails Boston (91-65), which lost to Toronto, by six games with six to play.

"We didn't get it done, and that's not a good feeling," Young said. "The Angels had a great year and overcame a tremendous amount of adversity, and they deserve a lot of credit. But from our side, it's not a good feeling. We've got to get better. It's as simple as that."

Young was back in the Rangers' lineup for just the second time since straining his left hamstring Sept. 1. The third baseman aggravated the injury against Oakland in an aborted return two weeks later, and his absence along with Josh Hamilton's lingering back problems seriously hurt Texas' playoff hopes.

"I just told them to keep their heads up," manager Ron Washington said. "We didn't get it done, but there's still games to be played. We didn't finish first, but I'd certainly like to win as many more games as we possibly can. We certainly don't want to be falling down to third or fourth, that's for sure."

Game notes
Morales started two 3-6-3 double plays by fielding a grounder and throwing quickly to second base. The Cuban's improved fielding despite limited time at first base in his baseball career before this season has been among his most impressive achievements to Scioscia. ... Young had never missed more than two straight games with an injury before his recent hamstring woes.