ARLINGTON, Texas — Call it lucky, weird or just plain goofy. Whatever, Mike Napoli and the Texas Rangers are suddenly one win away from their first World Series championship.
And the St. Louis Cardinals? Perhaps next time they should try texting the bullpen.
In a Game 5 that took
several odd twists at the end, Texas turned a grounder that got away and a telephone mix-up into its biggest victory ever. Napoli delivered the latest clutch hit of his charmed season, lining a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning that sent the Rangers past St. Louis 4-2 on Monday night for a 3-2 edge.
Next up for Texas, a trip to St. Louis and a chance to capture that elusive crown.
“We certainly won’t be out there thinking about we’ve just got to win one game,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “I’ve been there before, and that doesn’t work.”
Napoli’s go-ahead stroke came off Marc Rzepczynski, right after a potential double-play ball slipped away from the St. Louis reliever. More bruising, at least to the Cardinals: Rzepczynski wasn’t even supposed to face Napoli.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he called down to the bullpen earlier in the inning and wanted Rzepczynski and closer Jason Motte to get ready. Instead, bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist heard only Rzepczynski at first. La Russa called again to ask for Motte and this time Lilliquist heard “Lynn,” as in reliever Lance Lynn.
“I was more frustrated the double-play ball went off the glove and the fact we had numerous chances to add runs. That’s probably more frustrating,” La Russa said.
“The other part just happens. I mean, it’s loud down there, and sometimes you call down there and you have to wait until the crowd and a guy gets up late. I mean, this is not unusual,” he said.
Said Lilliquist: “You get a bunch of people, and it’s loud.”
“He wanted Motte going easy to back Zep up and I thought I heard Lynn. It transpired from there,” he said. “It’s basically miscommunication. It was loud. A lot of places are like that. The phone is as good as any phone anywhere.”
The right-handed Napoli, meanwhile, was dialed in to face the left-handed Rzepczynski with the bases loaded, one out and the score 2-all.
“I didn’t really see anybody warming up in the bullpen, so I kind of figured I was going to face him,” Napoli said.
“Just trying to get something to the outfield, you know, get a sac fly, get that run across the board,” he said. “I was trying to stay short and I got a pitch I could handle over the middle of the plate and put it in the gap.”
Texas will try to wrap it up in Game 6 on Wednesday night in St. Louis, with Colby Lewis facing Jaime Garcia. The weather forecast for Busch Stadium is daunting, calling for rain and temperatures around 50.
After Napoli put Texas ahead, the slugging catcher capped off his night of double duty by throwing out a would-be base stealer in the ninth as Albert Pujols struck out.
“Pujols is going to put it in play, he’s a good contact hitter,” Napoli said, “and they were just starting the runner, 3-2. As soon as I got it, I just got rid of it and put it on the bag.”
In the seventh, Napoli threw out Allen Craig at second with Pujols at the plate. Apparently, Pujols put on his own hit-and-run, then didn’t swing.
If the Rangers eventually do win it all, the Texas fans who stood and chanted Napoli’s name may forever remember his two-run hit.
If the Cardinals lose, there’s no doubt which play will stick with La Russa for a long, long time.
It was tied when Texas put runners on first and second with one out in the eighth, and Rzepczynski was summoned. David Murphy followed with a bouncer back to the mound, a possible inning-ending double play in the making.
But the ball appeared to glance off Rzepczynski’s hand and trickled harmlessly away for a single that loaded the bases. In the dugout, La Russa immediately threw his hands to his head, a true “Oh, no!” moment.
Napoli, who came close to a three-run homer in his previous at-bat and hit a big homer in a Game 4 win, sent a drive up the alley against the pitcher with the nickname “Scrabble.” The double off Rzepczynski sure spelled good things for Texas, with the excitable Washington waving the runners around from the dugout.
Darren Oliver earned the win and Neftali Feliz closed for his second save of the Series and sixth of the postseason.
Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland hit solo home runs off Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, helping Texas come back from an early 2-0 deficit.
Later, it became a battle of the bullpens and Texas prevailed.
Octavio Dotel gave up a leadoff double to Young in the eighth, struck out Beltre and intentionally walked Nelson Cruz. That left it up to Rzepczynski, and the game quickly slipped away.
La Russa appeared stunned by the turnaround. Later in the eighth, because of the mix-up, he brought in Lynn and had him issue an intentional walk to the only batter he faced. Motte eventually ended the inning, but it was too late.
Fittingly, Napoli had a role in the final play. Lance Berkman struck out and the ball hit Napoli’s shin guard and trickled up the first base line, where the catcher picked it up and tossed to first base to end the game.
Pujols drew three intentional walks, including a pass with two outs and none on in the seventh. The St. Louis slugger then nearly used his legs to put his team ahead.
Pujols was running hard on a 3-2 pitch that Matt Holliday hit for a single to left-center. Pujols chugged around the bags and third base coach Jose Oquendo initially waved him home, only to put up a late stop sign.
Would Pujols have been safe on shortstop Elvis Andrus’ wide throw to the plate? Maybe. But it became moot when Berkman was intentionally walked to load the bases and David Freese flied out against Alexi Ogando.
Beltre’s homer made it 2-all with two outs in the sixth. He dropped to one knee after following through on a meaty cut. He connected on a big curve from Carpenter, who had easily handled Josh Hamilton and Young to start the inning.
Beltre’s other homers this October came in a bunch. He hit three in a first-round playoff game at Tampa Bay.
Napoli almost gave Texas a cushion later in the inning. With the crowd standing and chanting his name as “Nap-Oh-Lee” flashed on the scoreboard, the catcher’s bid for a three-run homer was caught on the warning track in right-center field, just shy of the 407-foot mark.
The homer let Texas ace C.J. Wilson avoid becoming the first pitcher to lose four times in a single postseason. The eccentric lefty who alternates red and blue gloves between starts had another uneven outing, working around five walks.
Wilson walked six while losing Game 1 to Carpenter and the Cardinals.
Moreland atoned for some glove woes with a home run in the third, hitting a drive halfway up the second deck in right field.
The Cardinals scored twice in the second, cashing in two leadoff walks sandwiched around a wild pitch.
Yadier Molina notched his fifth RBI of the Series with a single that left fielder Murphy overran and fumbled for an error. Skip Schumaker followed with an RBI grounder to first that Moreland boxed around, preventing any chance at a double play.
NOTES: Playing on his 34th birthday, Rafael Furcal led off the game with a liner that 3B Beltre backhanded. Furcal started Game 4 the same way. … Wilson matched the postseason record for walks — 19 — set by Cleveland’s Jaret Wright in 1997. Wilson’s 11 walks in the World Series are the most since Allie Reynolds in 1951. … Pujols flied out on a 3-0 pitch to end the first. He swung at 15 of 37 pitches on 3-0 counts this season, going 4 for 8 on the balls he put in play. … Cardinals reliever Arthur Rhodes turned 42. He’s the oldest player to celebrate a birthday while playing in the Series. Jim Palmer was 38 in 1983.