ARLINGTON -- In a classic World Series that is pushing the outer limits of gripping tension, excitement and suspense, Mike Napoli has pushed the Rangers to within one victory of winning it all and turning their club president into a prophet.Napoli, facing a pitcher that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa did not want in the game at that point, hit a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning on Monday that lifted the Rangers to a 4-2 victory in Game 5 of the World Series. The Rangers now have a 3-2 Series lead going into Wednesday's 7:05 p.m. CT first pitch in Game 6 at Busch Stadium. If Texas wins that game, it would fulfill club president Nolan Ryan's bold prediction of Rangers in six. "It's not going to be easy," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "It has been difficult all the way through the playoffs, and it's not easy to win a World Series. We just have to keep coming out with the best we have. It's been a great Series, just a bunch of great baseball games." The Rangers, in their final 2011 appearance at Rangers Ballpark, trailed, 2-0, early against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. But they were able to tie it on a third-inning home run by Mitch Moreland and a sixth-inning homer by Adrian Beltre. The Rangers went ahead in the eighth against the St. Louis bullpen, with Napoli delivering the big blow that brought 51,459 delirious fans to their feet. "Our last home game, and we went out in style," Moreland said. "This has been awesome ... certainly a lot better than last year," outfielder David Murphy said. "Last year, we didn't play up to expectations. This year, it has been a great Series. It was great to reward our fans with a great game like this in our last home game. Now, we're one win away. We're not taking anything for granted, but hopefully we can go to St. Louis and get this done." Napoli -- who became the second player to have four multi-RBI games in a World Series, joining Mickey Mantle (1960) -- is now hitting .308 with two home runs and nine RBIs in the Series and has emerged as the leading candidate for Most Valuable Player honors if the Rangers can wrap this up in St. Louis. "I'm glad I can help to contribute," Napoli said. "Anybody in this lineup can do it. You've got to give Beltre credit for hitting the homer to tie the game up. If he doesn't do that, I don't have a chance to do that in the eighth inning. We all do it together, and there are key things that are overlooked, but we fought hard." Darren Oliver, on a huge night of redemption for the Rangers' bullpen, earned the victory as the fourth of five pitchers who turned back one Cardinals threat after another. Neftali Feliz earned his second save of the Series and sixth of the postseason with a scoreless ninth. Rangers relievers, who allowed 11 runs in Game 3, pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings behind starter C.J. Wilson.
WALKING ON THE EDGE
|2005||CHW||3||12||W, 7-5 (14 inn.)|
The Cardinals were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position through the first eight innings. They had runners in scoring position in six of those innings, left 12 runners on base in the game and Napoli, besides his offensive heroics, twice threw out Allen Craig trying to steal at crucial points of the game. Actually, in this one, every moment was crucial.Rangers pitchers walked nine, including Albert Pujols intentionally three times. But Feliz, after hitting Craig to lead off the ninth, struck out Pujols on a full-count pitch with the runner going before Napoli fired to second to complete the double play. "My bullpen has been great for me," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They executed pitches. They've been coming in and get it done. We had a meltdown the other day, but other than that, they've been great. No matter who we call on, they have been coming in and getting the job done." This is now the 40th time in World Series history that a Game 5 was played with the Series tied at two wins apiece. The team that won Game 5 prevailed in 26 of the previous 39 World Series that were tied at 2 after four games. "We're excited about it, but we'll take the same approach we always have," Rangers designated hitter Michael Young said. "We have a really hungry team, but it's professional in every sense of the word. Because of that, we'll be ready to roll on for Game 6. We'll be playing that game to win, like we always do. ... Obviously, we know the stakes right now, but we'll show up ready to compete and play our game." Murphy offered the perfect formula for Game 6: "Control our energy, control our adrenaline and get as many runners on base in front of Napoli as possible." Young did that, starting off the eighth-inning rally with a double into the right-center-field alley off reliever Octavio Dotel, who had just entered the game in relief of Carpenter. Beltre struck out and Nelson Cruz was walked intentionally. That's when things started getting strange. La Russa brought in left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to face Murphy. Washington had right-handed-hitting Craig Gentry on the bench but decided to stick with Murphy for a lefty-lefty matchup. "Sometimes when a lefty comes in, I feel good about Murph being up there," Washington said. "I thought Murph was having good at-bats all night. I just felt like right there was a good opportunity to let Murph swing." Rzepczynski got Murphy to hit a grounder back to the mound, but it caromed off his glove and darted between first and second. Second baseman Nick Punto couldn't make a play, and it was ruled an infield hit that loaded the bases. "The most important hit of my career, and it went 90 feet," Murphy said. La Russa then left Rzepczynski in to face Napoli, who had a .319 batting average against left-handers during the regular season. He also had a .619 slugging percentage against lefties that was the fourth highest in the American League. "I didn't see anybody warming up in the bullpen, so I figured I was going to face him," Napoli said. La Russa said after the game that he had called down to the bullpen to get right-hander Jason Motte up for Napoli. But there was a miscommunication, and Lance Lynn got up instead. La Russa did not want to pitch Lynn because of his recent workload, so he left Rzepczynski in to pitch to Napoli. "What happened was that twice the bullpen didn't hear Motte's name," La Russa said. "They heard Rzepczynski, and they didn't get Motte." Napoli, after fouling off a slider, lined another one on a 1-1 count into the right-center-field gap that brought home two runs and gave the Rangers the lead. "I went back at him for one more," Rzepczynski said. "If I bury it down and in, maybe it's on the ground and it's a double play, and maybe we're still playing. Tony has faith in me to get out righties. I've gotten out Napoli before. But when you hang a slider, any hitter, period, is going to be able to hit it." Right now, Napoli isn't just any hitter. He may be hitting eighth, but he has the Rangers just one win away from the first World Series title in club history.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.