ARLINGTON, Texas – Texas Rangers fans love to sing "Deep in the Heart of Texas." They love their "Ring of Fire." But the enduring sound from the last two games played in Arlington in 2011 will linger through the offseason:
"Nap-Oh-Lee! Nap-Oh-Lee! Nap-Oh-Lee!"
Mike Napoli(notes), steel jaw covered with sandy hair, batting eighth despite impeccable credentials, came through again with the big hit, driving in two runs with a double in the eighth inning to snap a tie and give Texas a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday in Game 5 of the World Series.
The sellout crowd chanted his name just as they did in Game 4 when Napoli belted a three-run home run that sealed a 4-0 Rangers' win. A year after dropping two home games in the series and watching the San Francisco Giants celebrate in Arlington, the Rangers won two of three here and return to St. Louis needing one victory for the first series title in franchise history.
Napoli hit the double on a slider from left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski(notes),, who wouldn't have faced Napoli except for a communications mix-up between the Cardinals dugout and the bullpen. Manager Tony La Russa asked that right-hander Jason Motte(notes) begin warming up two batters before Napoli came up. But bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist thought La Russa said "Lynn" rather than "Motte" over the phone, even though reliever Lance Lynn(notes) was scheduled for a night off.
Rzepczynski gave up an infield single to left-handed batter David Murphy(notes) to load the bases, foiling La Russa's plan to walk Napoli intentionally if Murphy had been retired. Motte wasn't ready to come in, and Napoli was able to face the left-hander.
Was Napoli surprised that Rzepczynski faced him?
"Not really," he said. "I didn't see anybody warming up in the bullpen so I thought I'd face him.
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"I was just trying to get something to the outfield, you know, get a sac fly, get that run across the board. I got a pitch I could handle over the middle of the plate and put it in the gap."
"I want to be a complete player," he said. "I'm not just here to be an offensive player. My job is to get pitchers through the innings, give them a quality start. … Then when I come up to hit, I go to hit."
Napoli wasn't part of last year's Rangers team. He came up with the Los Angeles Angels as Texas developed into their chief rival in the American League West. But the Angels felt they needed a big bat and traded Napoli and Juan Rivera(notes) to the Toronto Blue Jays for Vernon Wells(notes) in January, a deal that among other mistakes cost Angels general manager Tony Reagins his job.
The Blue Jays dealt Napoli a few days later to the Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco(notes). Turns out it was Texas that had added the big bat. Napoli batted .320 with 30 home runs, a career year (Wells, by the way, hit .218 with 25 homers for the Angels).
And Napoli has merely extended his production straight through the postseason like one of his laser throws to second base, batting .313 with three homers and 14 RBIs. Most of his hits – especially his long drives – are pulled to left field. But the double against Rzepczynski was drilled to right-center, scoring Michael Young(notes) and Nelson Cruz(notes).
Napoli had nearly come up with the big hit two innings earlier when he drove a two-out pitch deep to center field with two on. It died in the biggest part of the ballpark, a harmless flyout. But the Rangers' bullpen put together its best effort of the series, the Cardinals left 12 runners on base and Napoli got another chance.
He was locked in and the Cardinals seemed befuddled. The bullpen snafu was the last in a game of missteps for La Russa.
"It was a mixup," La Russa said, "and on our team nobody gets thrown under the bus. It was a mix-up, and that's all I'm going to say."
Like a chess champ or an ice skater, every baseball manager has a favorite move. La Russa loves the sacrifice bunt. The Rangers' Ron Washington loves the intentional walk.
La Russa ordered bunts to his heart's content. Washington had his pitchers issue four intentional walks. Twice, Cardinal sacrifices led directly to four wide ones. Pujols was walked intentionally three times.
This was one game where La Russa, a future Hall-of-Fame manager with more postseason victories than anyone but Joe Torre, made all the wrong moves. And it was a game where Washington looked good for a move that had brought criticism: Leaving Napoli in the eighth spot in the order.
Washington doesn't want to bat left-handers Murphy and Mitch Moreland back to back, so he uses Napoli to split them up.
"I decided that with the lefties Tony has in that bullpen, that if he brought in a lefty, he'd have to go through Napoli or he'd have to make an extra pitcher come in," Washington said. "It worked."
Starting pitchers C.J. Wilson(notes) and Chris Carpenter came into the game heading in opposite directions, but they exited on equal footing. Wilson lasted 5 1/3 wobbly innings and Carpenter cut through seven sharper frames, but each pitcher allowed two runs.
Wilson, 0-3 with an unsightly 7.17 ERA in four earlier starts this postseason, struggled with command of each of his six pitches: two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, cut fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He walked five and both runs he allowed were the result of free passes.
Carpenter, 3-0 with a 3.52 ERA in four earlier starts this postseason, was more efficient than Wilson but surrendered solo home runs to Mitch Moreland(notes) in the third and Adrian Beltre(notes) in the sixth. Moreland crushed a sinker that didn't sink into the second deck in right field and Beltre banged a hanging curve with a swing so violent his right knee hit the ground on his follow through.
In addition to his wildness, Wilson made an error and threw a wild pitch. Yet he worked out of two jams by getting Cardinals cleanup batter Matt Holliday(notes) to ground out to shortstop. Holliday bounced into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the third and grounded out with runners on first and third in the fifth. Both at-bats came after intentional walks to Pujols.
"It was a battle for him all night," Washington said of Wilson. "I mean, every inning he was out there, but that's the kind of warrior he is. When you have warriors on your team, you let them fight, and I let him fight and I kept him around."
Holliday's walk to open the second inning led to the first two Cardinal runs. Wilson walked Lance Berkman(notes), too, and Yadier Molina(notes) scored Holliday with a one-out single. Left fielder David Murphy couldn't field the ball cleanly, allowing Berkman to advance to third, so when Skip Schumaker(notes) grounded to first for the second out, Berkman dashed home with an unearned run.
[World Series Game 5 slideshow: Napoli once again plays hero]
Wilson struck out Berkman to open the sixth, but when David Freese(notes) followed with a single on his 108th pitch, Washington went to Scott Feldman(notes). It might also have been Wilson's last pitch as a Ranger: He'll be a free agent after the series and should be able to choose from several huge offers because the teams with the most money – Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, – need starting pitchers and Wilson might be the best on the market.
On Monday he had an exceptional catcher coaxing him through his outing. Regardless of where Wilson ends up, that catcher's name will ring in the ears of Rangers' followers for months:
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