Angels wrap up regular season, focus on ALDS

Angels wrap up regular season, focus on ALDS

SEATTLE -- The Angels' 2014 season ended the same way it began, with a three-game sweep at the hands of the division-rival Mariners, but the significance was drastically different.

When the Angels opened with three straight losses at home, it was deemed by naysayers throughout the country as the beginning of yet another underachieving season that would yield a fifth straight playoff absence. But when they lost, 4-1, at Safeco Field on Sunday, it was merely the conclusion of a regular season that finished with the game's best record, the end of an afternoon that paved the way for postseason baseball.

"We're excited to get started," said center fielder Mike Trout, who finished what is expected to be an American League MVP season with a .287 batting average, 36 homers, 111 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

"I think everybody's pretty excited for the postseason," right fielder Kole Calhoun said. "These last few days, leading into the last weekend and trying to get healthy, games have been a little different. It's going to be nice to get that intensity and get into some games that are going to be big for us."

The Angels finished with 98 wins, third-most in club history and two shy of the franchise record, set in 2008.

On Thursday they'll either host the Royals or the A's in the AL Division Series.

"It's going to be a fun game to watch," Trout said of an AL Wild Card Game that will kick off from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City at 5:07 p.m. PT on Tuesday. "Both teams are great."

The Mariners began the day with hopes of forcing a tiebreaker, needing a victory and an A's loss, and Felix Hernandez did his part, giving up just one hit in the first five innings and striking out seven of his first 10 batters. But the A's pulled away in the ninth in Arlington, ultimately beating the Rangers, 4-0, and eliminating the Mariners from postseason contention while their game with the Angels was in the bottom of the fifth.

A crowd of 40,823 groaned, then paid its respects to Hernandez, who was taken out after retiring his first batter in the sixth, and second baseman Robinson Cano, removed for defense two batters later.

"It was disappointing, because our guys really poured their hearts into this season," Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon said. "But the A's deserved what they got. We just came up a little short."

Reliever Cory Rasmus gave up one run in the first three innings and the Mariners pulled away with a three-run fourth, when Joe Thatcher gave up an RBI double to Michael Saunders and Yoslan Herrera served up a two-run single to Mike Zunino. Hector Santiago, who could start Game 4 of the ALDS, and Wade LeBlanc, who is on the postseason bubble, each finished with two scoreless innings.

The Angels' only run came off the bat of John McDonald in what could end up being his final at-bat. With two outs in the top of the ninth, McDonald lined a double to left field off Danny Farquhar, ensuring that the Angels would go an entire season without being shut out on the road.

McDonald is one of 73 position players since 1901 to get an at-bat at age 40, and though he's open to playing next season, he kept the ball, just in case teams don't call this winter.

"You never know," McDonald said, fighting back tears at his locker postgame. "You have to be prepared. That's what my career has been about more than anything."

The Angels finished their season with a club record for the fewest errors by their defense (83) and the most strikeouts by their pitching staff (1,342). They led the Majors in runs (773), ranked second in run differential (plus-143) and locked up home-field advantage throughout the postseason for only the second time in team history.

Their season finished with seven losses in a span of 10 games, but they had already locked up the division by then. And, as manager Mike Scioscia said, "It all starts again on Thursday."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.