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Napoli blasts a three-run shot the other way

ARLINGTON -- The struggle, Rangers catcher Mike Napoli said, goes from one at-bat to another.

"Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I don't," Napoli said. "I've been feeling better lately. You have to keep plugging away. You can't let one at-bat affect another."

Napoli did not on Monday night. He struck out in his first two at-bats against Mariners starter Kevin Millwood before coming up with two on and one out in the sixth.

This time Napoli crushed a 2-0 pitch off the upper deck facade beyond the right-field wall for a three-run home run, and the Rangers made it stand up in a 4-2 victory over the Mariners at the Ballpark in Arlington.

The home run was Napoli's second in two days after he had gone a career-long 24 games without going deep. His home run against the Blue Jays on Sunday barely cleared the right-field wall. There was no doubt about this one.

"I hit that one pretty good," Napoli said after the Rangers won their fourth straight game. "When I'm hitting the ball well the opposite way, that's a good sign."

Napoli did more than just blast the ball out of the ballpark at the right time. He also helped Matt Harrison negotiate another strong start and was the third leg on a terrific relay in the bottom of the eighth that cut short a potential rally for the Mariners.

Harrison, finding himself in a pitching duel with former teammate Kevin Millwood in front of a Memorial Day crowd of 41,384, emerged the winner by lasting eight innings. He allowed two runs on seven hits, did not walk a batter and struck out five.

"He attacked the strike zone. That's what it's all about," manager Ron Washington said. "Make them swing the bat and put the ball in play. That's why he found himself in the eighth inning. He was aggressive and he had tremendous stuff. He did a great job."

Harrison has won his past two starts -- both against the Mariners -- and is 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA in his past five starts. He is also 6-3 with a 4.41 ERA in 10 starts on the season.

"I'm way more aggressive," Harrison said. "That's the way it was at the beginning of the season. I'm pounding the strike zone and keeping hitters off balance. I'm able to command my fastball a lot more. If you can command the fastball, it makes them chase the offspeed pitches. They're not sitting on the fastball."

An RBI single by Jesus Montero give the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the first. Nelson Cruz tied it with a home run in the bottom of the second, and that was the only run the Rangers got off Millwood. He has made three starts against the Rangers this season and allowed just two runs.

But they were able to make him throw 97 pitches over five innings, which cut his night short. The Mariners had to go to the bullpen in the sixth.

"They're just really selective and didn't chase any bad pitches, and I didn't locate very well today," Millwood said. "The two combined just added up to me throwing a lot of pitches. You can't give in and just start throwing the ball down the middle. You just keep doing what you're doing and try to fix it and get deep in the ballgame. But I wasn't able to do that either."

Right-hander Steve Delabar took over in the sixth and walked Adrian Beltre to lead off the inning. David Murphy followed with a hit-and-run single to right, giving the Rangers runners at the corners. Delabar struck out Cruz, but fell behind 2-0 to Napoli. Then next pitch left the yard.

"It was a big hit," Washington said. "We needed it and he needed it for his own well-being. You don't come out of a slump in two days, but he's feeling better at the plate. What we got out of him tonight, we needed from him."

That included blocking the plate on the eighth-inning relay play.

Harrison took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth and Michael Saunders led off with an infield single. Brendan Ryan followed with a line drive to right-center and center fielder Craig Gentry missed making a diving catch. The ball rolled past him all the way to the wall, allowing Saunders to score easily.

Third-base coach Jeff Datz also waved Ryan home, but he was cut down on a relay from right fielder Cruz to second baseman Ian Kinsler to Napoli at home plate.

"It takes three to make a relay," Kinsler said. "Cruz started it, I made the relay and Napoli blocked the plate and made the tag. That's how we got it done."

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