ST. PETERSBURG -- Rangers catcher Mike Napoli and Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez were once teammates with the Angels in 2008-09. But in Game 4 of the 2011 American League Division Series, they were involved in a serious collision at home plate that was a reminder of the intensity that is postseason baseball. "We're friends," Napoli said. "But once we get on the field, it's time to play baseball and try to help your team win." Napoli took the brunt of the play as Rodriguez, trying to score from first base on a double, barreled into him at home plate in the second inning.
"Yeah, Nap's a big boy," Rodriguez said. "I love him to death, and he knows that, too. But he's doing his job, which is to block the plate, and I'm doing my job, just trying to get anything on him. One tough baseball player to another." "It was a fine, clean play," Napoli said. "He was trying to score. I'm going to try to do the same thing if I'm trying to score and a guy is blocking the plate in that moment." The Rangers led, 2-0, going into the bottom of the second inning and were threatening to take complete control of the game. But the play seemed to energize the Rays and their home crowd of 28,299. Rodriguez walked with one out in the inning. Rangers starter Matt Harrison struck out Casey Kotchman before Matt Joyce hit a fly ball that dropped into right-center. Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz got to the ball quickly and fired it to second baseman Ian Kinsler. But Rodriguez, a defensive back in his high school days in Miami, kept coming and was waved home by third-base coach Tom Foley. Kinsler's throw had Rodriguez beat. But Rodriguez smashed into Napoli and knocked the ball loose. He also went back to touch home plate while umpire Greg Gibson signaled him safe. "I knew it was going to be close at home, and he was going to block the plate, which is what he's supposed to do," Rodriguez said. "You got to get your mindset up, just fortunate to knock the ball out." Napoli was stunned for a moment, but after being checked out by manager Ron Washington and trainer Jamie Reed, he stayed in the game. "He got me in the throat pretty good," Napoli said. "I don't know if it was his forearm, but he hit me pretty good. I was walking around to regroup a little bit." The run was one of three Rodriguez scored for the Rays on the day. "Sean Rodriguez is a baseball player," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He is a throwback in every sense of the word. He could have played in any decade, any era. He's kind of unique with today's baseball player. "You could see that play lining up. It was just lining up, because Matt hits the ball relatively well, but Cruz cuts it off, Kinsler good relay, Napoli tough, sitting on the plate, and beautiful collision, because nobody got hurt and the Rays scored a run. But that's who Sean is, and I respect him a ton for all of that."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.