Last night was the final home game of the 2011 season for the Texas Rangers and the biggest game in the history of their franchise. With the World Series tied at two games apiece, catcher Mike Napoli just continued to do what he has been doing all season as the Rangers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 in Game 5.
Not only is Napoli having a career year at the plate, his defense behind the dish and the way he handles the pitching staff might be just as impressive. All of the above were on display last night on the biggest stage of them all.
After a one-out walk to Allen Craig in the seventh inning and the ever-dangerous Albert Pujols at the plate, Napoli gunned down Craig trying to steal, clearing the bases in a tie game. Not only was it the second out of the inning, but it allowed the Rangers to go ahead and intentionally walk Pujols. Although the Cardinals ended up loading the bases in the inning, Alexi Ogando worked out of the jam by getting David Freese to fly out to center.
In the bottom of the eighth, Napoli strolled to the plate in a 2-2 game with the bases loaded and one out. With the raucous crowd at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington chanting “Nap-o-li, Nap-o-li,” he delivered a two-run double to the gap in right-center to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead. It was yet another clutch hit by Napoli who has two home runs and nine RBIs so far in this World Series.
In the top of the ninth, closer Neftali Feliz hit the lead-off batter, Craig, to bring the tying run to the plate. That tying run just happened to be Mr. Pujols. So with arguably the best player in all of baseball at the plate representing the tying run, what do you do? If you guessed a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play, you are correct. Feliz got Pujols to chase a 99 mph fastball on a 3-2 count and Napoli threw a strike down to Ian Kinsler at second base to nail Craig once again.
The Rangers are now on the verge of their first World Series title ever, and Napoli has been an integral part of the team’s success. His offense, defense and the way he calls games behind the plate are just one reason why the Rangers are only one win away from a championship.