ARLINGTON -- You almost figured that at some point, no matter how talented their roster or how valiant their effort, the Angels' playoff aspirations would fall just short. The Orioles and A's have been too resilient; the holes the Angels dug themselves a tad too deep.
Fitting, though, that it would practically end here, at Rangers Ballpark, home of the team the Angels came into the season expecting to challenge for the American League West.
Fitting that it would be Mike Napoli, the offensive-minded catcher who has haunted the Angels' dreams since being traded two offseasons ago, who would deliver one of the final blows.
In Game 2 of a doubleheader, hours after a spirited comeback victory by the Angels in Game 1, Napoli hit two homers and finished with a career-high-tying six RBIs, leading a tirade against Ervin Santana that vanished an early four-run lead, led to an 8-7 defeat and all but mathematically eliminated the Angels from postseason contention.
The doubleheader split, and the A's third straight victory over the Mariners, put the Angels -- and the Rays -- three games back of the second AL Wild Card spot with only three regular-season games left.
The Rangers, meanwhile, clinched a postseason berth -- along with the Yankees and Orioles -- and put their magic number for the division title at two.
The Angels made it interesting late, cutting a four-run deficit to one on a seventh-inning, three-run homer by Howie Kendrick, but they came up just short and now need nothing short of a miracle to somehow sneak into the playoffs
But games do remain and that "E" is still not next to their name in the standings. So, they'll keep fighting.
"I think if you play this many games throughout the year, and dedicate this much time, there's really no point to not at least seeing it through," said outfielder Mark Trumbo, whose team finishes with three in Seattle, while the Rangers travel to Oakland for a three-game set.
"We have to go out there and take care of our business," said Torii Hunter, the Game 1 hero who racked up seven hits and a walk in the doubleheader. "But at the same time, we're going to be watching. There's no doubt about that."
In some ways, the Angels can't fault themselves for their current predicament. Since Aug. 21, they've gone 26-11, good for the best record in the AL, but have gained just one game in the Wild Card race.
In some ways, they can. Their 6-14 start to the season put them in an early hole. A 14-22 start to the second half spoiled all the work they had done making the early uphill climb. And losing six of 10 starting Sept. 10 -- a week that began with them only one game back of a playoff spot -- left them scrambling once more.
Game 2 started out so positively, though.
The Angels had won the opener, 5-4, on Hunter's two-out, two-run, ninth-inning double off Joe Nathan (who would redeem himself by closing out Game 2). The A's had yet to beat the Mariners, making it possible that the Angels could be just one game back of a playoff spot by the end of this long day.
And the Angels jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning of the nightcap against Derek Holland, getting an RBI double by Albert Pujols, an RBI single by Hunter and a two-run homer by Trumbo.
But Santana tends to live and die by the home-run ball. And on Sunday, his team's postseason hopes were put on life support because of it.
David Murphy and Napoli started the bottom of the second by going back-to-back, cutting the Angels' lead to 4-3. In the third, with runners on the corners and two outs, Napoli took an 0-1 slider out over the plate and blasted it over the left-field wall for the Major League-leading 39th home run Santana has given up this season.
"I think the one to Murphy was a good pitch," Santana said, "but the other two to Napoli were hangers."
Santana, who threw to Napoli for five years, came in with a 2.88 ERA in nine starts since the beginning of August. He left giving up six runs in 2 2/3 innings, putting him at 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA after what's likely his final regular-season start.
"Anything can happen," said Santana, who has a $13 million club option for next season. "That's why you don't even think about it and just let things happen by themselves. So, I'm not thinking about it at all."
Since being traded by the Angels as part of the Vernon Wells deal of January 2011, Napoli has batted .396 (44-for-111) with 12 homers and 25 RBIs in 33 games against them. Four of his six multi-homer games with the Rangers have come vs. the Angels.
His two-run double in the fifth, off Jerome Williams, gave the Rangers a necessary 8-4 lead.
"I'm not thinking about that; all I'm trying to do up there is my job," Napoli said of getting back at the Angels, even though his production says differently.
"He's playing with vengeance," Hunter said. "He was my teammate, so, I hate he's doing it to us. But that's how you really make a statement."
Kendrick came through big time in the seventh, hitting a two-out, three-run homer to left-center field to cut the Angels' deficit to 8-7 and, after a pretty big recovery, knock Holland out of the game.
But the Rangers' bullpen -- which has 14 fewer blown saves than the Angels' AL-leading total of 22 -- held on, causing the Angels to lose most of their grip on the postseason.
"We needed to get that second game, obviously, to keep pace and keep ourselves in a little better position than we are right now," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "But these guys played their hearts out. I don't know if you can ask more for what they did."
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.