We've arrived at No. 1 in our Dazzling Dozen. Some of you won't agree with our choice and that just shows how many memorable moments this team had in 2011. Any of our top 4, really, could have been No. 1.
No. 1: Mike Napoli's two-run double in Game 5
With the series tied at two games each following Derek Holland's stellar performance in Game 4, the Rangers hosted Game 5 in front of 50,000-plus at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Knowing the series shifted back to Busch Stadium for Games 6 and 7, the Rangers felt like they had to win Game 5 to have a good chance at winning the World Series.
The Cardinals scored two runs in the second off starter C.J. Wilson, but the left-hander shut them down after that. The offense responded with one run in the third and another in the sixth to tie the score. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Ranger fans got to see a little bit of everything.
Octavio Dotel came in to pitch and allowed a double to Michael Young, who clapped his hands as he arrived at second as the potential go-ahead run. Adrian Beltre struck out and the Cardinals decided to intentionally walk Nelson Cruz and bring in left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to pitch to left-handed hitter David Murphy. But Murphy, who seemed to save some of his best at-bats for the postseason (and hit just .215 against left-handed pitchers in 2011), hit a hard grounder to the mound that bounced off Rzepczynski's leg and rolled to second baseman Nick Punto, who couldn't field it cleanly enough to get Murphy. The infield hit loaded the bases with no outs.
Mike Napoli arrived at home plate and, with no one apparently ready in the bullpen, stepped in to face Rzepcyznski. It was puzzling because Napoli crushed left-handed pitching in 2011, batting .319 against them. Rzepcyznski said he wasn't surprised to still be in because left-handed hitter Mitch Moreland was on deck and sometimes he pitched to a right-handed hitter with a lefty waiting. It's worth pointing out that manager Ron Washington altered the bottom of his lineup when the series got back to Arlington to put Napoli in the 8-hole between two left-handed hitters just to make Tony La Russa have to decide how to pitch to Napoli.
But with no alternatives fully ready, there was little choice. Napoli got a pitch he could hit on the outside part of the plate and drove it the other way for a two-run double. The fans went crazy and immediately closer Neftali Feliz started to get warm in anticipation of a save opportunity.
The craziness of the inning wasn't over. After Rzepcynzki struck out Mitch Moreland, Lance Lynn came in from the bullpen. When La Russa saw him trotting in, he was confused. He had called for the right-hander, figuring that finally closer Jason Motte was ready. But in came Lynn.
"I said, 'Why are you here?'" La Russa said after the game.
So Lynn intentionally walked Ian Kinsler and then left the game. Motte, who was finally ready, came in and struck out Elvis Andrus. But the damage was done. Feliz hit Allen Craig to start the ninth, but the speedy runner was thrown out at second by Napoli. Feliz struck out Lance Berkman to end the game and give the Rangers the franchise's biggest win to that point.
After the game, La Russa was left to explain some strange decisions with his bullpen. He said the ballpark was so loud as the 51,459 fans screamed that there was miscommunication between the dugout and the coaches in the bullpen. He wanted Motte up and throwing to pitch to Napoli, but they thought he said Lynn. La Russa said Lynn was not supposed to be available and didn't want him throwing to Kinsler and that's why he was walked. But Motte wasn't up and throwing quickly enough to get warm for Napoli, forcing Rzepcynzki to throw to him. Motte didn't start throwing until Lynn walked out of the bullpen. In other words: The Cardinals couldn't seem to get things straight as to which pitchers were supposed to get warm. And the Rangers took advantage.
Kinsler was asked after the game: What if the Rangers win the World Series in part because of the noise level of the crowd?
"They all get rings," said Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, though he added that he's not buying.
He added: "If that's the truth, I can believe it, because it's been incredibly, incredibly loud. I think everyone in here has said it before, we've been to Tampa, Detroit, New York, St. Louis, San Francisco, and this is the loudest outdoor ballpark we've even been at. They are great fans. It's a great way to go out. Hopefully, they'll be that loud screaming at the TV when we're in St. Louis."
What it meant: The Rangers took a 3-2 lead back to St. Louis, putting themselves in great position to win the World Series. They ended up a strike away twice, but couldn't close the deal in Game 6 and then lost in Game 7. But it's considered one of the best World Series ever played, full of drama and even some craziness (like the eighth inning of Game 5).
The aftermath: Texas didn't win its first World Championship, but Game 5 showed once again what a huge home-field advantage Rangers Ballpark in Arlington can be. Those that attended agreed that it was the loudest they'd ever heard that park (even louder than Game 6 of the ALCS in 2010). It's the kind of atmosphere the Rangers hope to continue to see in postseasons to come.