x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Texas Rangers hold edge in World Series after long Napoli drive

A long drive by Mike Napoli, a lucky bounce and a bullpen mix-up. The weird recipe that puts the Texas Rangers on the brink of their first World Series.

Mike Napoli, left, throws out Allen Craig on second base, in a double-play which saw the dangerous St Louis batsman Albert Pujols striking out in the ninth inning. Texas Rangers lead the World Series 3-2.
Mike Napoli, left, throws out Allen Craig on second base, in a double-play which saw the dangerous St Louis batsman Albert Pujols striking out in the ninth inning. Texas Rangers lead the World Series 3-2.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS // A long drive by Mike Napoli, a lucky bounce and a bullpen mix-up. The weird recipe which put the Texas Rangers on the brink of their first World Series championship.

Napoli delivered the biggest hit of his charmed season, lining a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning that sent the Rangers past the St Louis Cardinals 4-2 last night for a 3-2 edge.

"We're a focused group," Michael Young, the Texas star, said. "We're hungry. We're looking forward to Game 6. We've already been to their park so we know what to expect."

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 was not 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, Derek Lilliquist, the bullpen coach, 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.

It cost the Cardinals dearly.

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 with potential rain a drop in temperature.

After Napoli put Texas ahead, the 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."

And just like that, Texas are now one win away.

If the Rangers eventually do win that elusive crown, the Texas fans who stood and chanted Napoli's name may forever remember his two-run hit.

"Just trying to get something to the outfield, you know, get a sac fly, get that run across the board," Napoli 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."

If the Cardinals lose, there's no doubt which play will stick with La Russa for a long, long time.

It was 2-2 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.

The mix-up then kept the lefty in to face the right-handed Napoli, and it did not work.

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 spelt good things for Texas, with excitable manager Ron 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 post-season.

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 lead off 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 baseline, where the catcher picked it up and tossed to first base to end the game.