ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers beat the misfiring St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 on Monday to move within one win of claiming their first World Series title since the franchise was born in 1961.
The victory gave Texas a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series that shifts to St. Louis for Game Six on Wednesday.
“When we get the field again on Wednesday, we’re just going to go out there and try to play the best game we can,” said Texas manager Ron Washington.
“If it’s good enough Wednesday, we’ll win. If not, we’ll play Thursday.”
A two-run double by Mike Napoli in the bottom of the eighth inning snapped a 2-2 tie to lift Texas over a St. Louis team that squandered a multitude of chances, leaving 12 men on base while hitting 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
Not only did St. Louis waste scoring opportunities, they hurt themselves with strategic gaffes, including a series of mistaken identities in the bullpen worthy of a bedroom farce.
Manager Tony La Russa said a sign was missed in an ill-timed stolen base try in the seventh, and that the wrong relief pitcher came into the game twice due to a breakdown in communications due to the noise in raucous Rangers Ballpark.
“That was a real tough loss because we had the opportunity to add runs,” said La Russa. “It was a disappointing, frustrating loss.”
Napoli’s clutch hit came after a bad break for the Cards.
Left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, who came on after Octavio Dotel gave up a double to Michael Young, induced a comebacker from David Murphy with men on first and second and one out. But the potential double-play grounder bounced off the pitcher for an infield single.
That loaded the bags for Napoli, the Rangers’ hottest hitter this series, and he came through again with a line drive into the alley in right-center to make it 4-2, bringing his RBI total to a series-leading nine.
Napoli also threw out Allen Craig twice trying to steal second base. “I’m glad I can help to contribute,” he said. “We all do it together.”
“He certainly knows how to play baseball, and he was taught well,” manager Washington said about Napoli, a former Los Angeles Angels player who joined the Rangers this season.
The Cardinals, who left the bases loaded in the fifth and seventh innings and stranded men on second and third in the sixth, threatened one last time in the ninth.
Texas closer Neftali Feliz hit Craig with a pitch leading off the last frame bringing the dangerous Albert Pujols up.
With the count full, Pujols swung and missed a pitch well outside the strike zone and catcher Napoli gunned a throw to second base for a strike out-throw out double play.
The inning was kept alive when Feliz walked Matt Holliday but Lance Berkman struck out to end it.
Reliever Darren Oliver was credited with the win and Feliz registered a save. Dotel took the loss.
The Cardinals scored their runs in the second inning, taking advantage of loose pitching and loose fielding, while the Rangers used the long ball to come back.
Mitch Moreland homered in the third and Adrian Beltre hit a solo blast off St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter in the sixth.
The Rangers’ eighth-inning rally was fueled by confusion.
La Russa told reporters that twice he tried to have Jason Motte readied to enter the game. The first time, the bullpen heard “Rzepczynski” and didn’t get Motte warmed up.
The manager called back again for Motte and instead, the bullpen got Lance Lynn up, who La Russa said he had decided would not be available for the game because of prior use.
Rzepczynski gave up the two-run double to Napoli.
“It must be loud,” explained a frustrated La Russa. “I give the fans credit.”