Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rangers Take Crucial Game Five; One Win Away from Winning World Series

Players of the Day for Monday, October 24, 2011

Rangers 4 Cardinals 2

Mike Napoli broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning with a bases-loaded double to right center field, scoring Michael Young and Nelson Cruz with the go-ahead and insurance runs, leaving the Rangers one game from winning the World Series and the Cardinals wondering about missed opportunities and the possibility of winning two games back in St. Louis.

Napoli: 8th-inning
double plates pair.
The Cardinals had taken an early lead with two runs in the second inning, and had their ace, Chris Carpenter working over the Ranger lineup from the mound. Carpenter had been strong through five innings, allowing only a third-inning solo homer by Mitch Moreland. With a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the sixth, the Cards appeared to have everything under control. Carpenter was working fast, getting Josh Hamilton on a ground out to first and striking out Michael Young for the second out of the inning. But, when Adrian Beltre saw Carpenter's looping curve ball, he deposited the pitch into the stands above left-center field to tie the game.

Beltre's 6th inning
home tied the game.
Missed opportunities and mistakes doomed the Cardinals the rest of the way, After a one-out walk to Allen Craig in the top of the seventh, Albert Pujols apparently called his own hit and run, but the pitch was high, and Napoli easily gunned down Criag at second. Pujols was then walked intentionally, and Matt Holliday followed with a single to shallow center, Pujols raced around third, drawing an errant throw and Holliday advanced to second. Alexi Ogando, who had relieved Scott Feldman to open the inning, walked Lance Berkman intentionally to load the bases, and then got David Freese to fly out to center on the first pitch. Threat ended. Mistakes noted.

Carpenter cruised through the bottom of the seventh, stranding Ian Kinsler, who had worked out a one-out walk, at first. St. Louis got catcher Yadier Molina to second base on a single and a sacrifice by Ryan Theroit, but could not get to Darren Oliver, who had replaced Ogando after giving up the leadoff single. With the tie-breaking run on second, Oliver punched out Nick Punto swinging and got Rafael Furcal on a harmless ground ball to short.

In the game-changing bottom of the eighth, Octavio Dotel came on for Carpenter, a quizzical move by manager Tony LaRussa, considering how well his ace had pitched, having thrown 101 pitches through seven innings, but  apparently with more gas in the tank. Michael Young led off with a double, but Dotel got Adrian Beltre on a swinging strikeout, then walked Nelson Cruz intentionally. Dotel was lifted for Mike Rzepczynski to face David Murphy, who singled up the middle, the ball glancing off Rzepczynski to second baseman Punto, who had no play at any base, negating a potential double play, leaving the bases chock-full of Rangers. Moments later Napoli ripped his double, giving the Rangers a lead they would take to the ninth.

Closer Neftali Feliz got off to a shaky start in the final frame, plunking Allen Criag to lead off the inning and bringing up Pujols again, but, just as in the seventh, Craig was running on a 3-2 count, the pitch was wide, Pujols swung and missed, but Napoli didn't miss Craig sliding into second base, thrown out for the second time. Matt Holliday worked a two-out walk, but Berkman struck out swinging to end the game and send Texas fans into delirious delight, the Rangers one game from the promised land of a franchise first World Series championship.

Game six will be played back in St. Louis on Wednesday night at 8:05 pm EDT, where the Cardinals split with the Rangers earlier in the series. Jaime Garcia, the hard-luck hurler who pitched seven innings of shutout ball on three hits, but earned no decision as the bullpen wasted a 1-0 lead in Texas' 2-1 win, will go to the mound for St. Louis. Texas sends out game two starter Colby Lewis in what could be a series clinching spot. Lewis also pitched well in his previous start, allowing just one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings.

If the Cardinals force a game seven on Thursday, the likely starters will be the same duo from game three, Matt Harrison for the Rangers facing Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals.

Napoli is having a huge series, and if the Rangers win game six, he would likely be named MVP. Even though he's had only four hits in 13 at-bats (.308), they've mostly been big ones, a two-run homer in game one, a two-run single in game three, a three run blast in game four and Monday night's game winning, two-RBI double, giving the slugging catcher nine RBI in addition to his near-flawless play behind the plate.

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