Commentary

In a flash, Mike Napoli powers Rangers

Catcher's big blast proves it just takes one swing to change the direction of a game

Updated: October 24, 2011, 2:36 AM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The "Hang Around Theory" was looming over the Texas Rangers like the angel of death Sunday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

For more than five innings in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series, the Rangers were intent on playing a vital supporting role to St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Edwin Jackson's excellent portrayal of Houdini.

Here Jackson is, suspended upside down in a tank full of water, arms chained to his chest, facing a sure demise.

Here come the Rangers with a hammer to break the glass and set him free.

Here Jackson is, locked in a trunk and tossed into the deepest part of shark-infested Joe Poole Lake (OK, not that deep, thanks to a summer-long drought).

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelMike Napoli ripped a Mitchell Boggs high fastball for a three-run home run. "I just got a pitch up that I could handle," he said. "You just have to try to get on top of it as much as you can."

Here the Rangers paddle merrily up in scuba gear, toting an extra tank and lots of shark repellant, allowing Jackson to keep breathing.

You get the picture.

That 1-0 lead the Rangers were nursing, even with Derek Holland pitching lights out for a change, appeared anything but safe. In fact, it seemed only a matter of time -- and Albert Pujols finally coming to the plate with a runner on base -- before the Cardinals would break through and the Rangers would dearly regret helping Jackson, who would walk seven, the most by a pitcher in a World Series since Florida's Livan Hernandez issued eight free passes in 1997, wiggle off the hook so many times.

Generally, when one team lets another hang around like the Rangers were allowing the Cardinals to do Sunday night, there's eventually hell to pay.

And then Mike Napoli finally said enough is enough and made Jackson and the Cardinals tote the note.

Houdini made one mistake too many.

It was Jackson's sixth and seventh walks of the game, to Nelson Cruz and David Murphy with one out in the sixth, that set the stage, but it was Napoli who delivered the crushing blow with a Pujols-like mammoth three-run home run deep into the left-field seats on reliever Mitchell Boggs' first pitch.

Now it's the Cardinals who must deal with the "Hang Around Theory," because it's the Rangers who insist on loitering in this World Series. Their 4-0 victory evened the Series at two games apiece and guaranteed a return to St. Louis for at least Game 6.

Perhaps equally important for the Rangers was the statement Sunday night's victory made on the heels of Saturday's 16-7 debacle in Game 3.

"We've done it all year," Napoli pointed out. "We know how to let it go. You can't harp on things and let it bother you."

Still, Sunday night's mesmerizing combined shutout between Holland and Neftali Feliz, who came on when Holland walked Rafael Furcal with one out in the ninth, was in stark contrast to Saturday night's bombing raid by Pujols and Company.

Young We know we're always just one big at-bat away. We showed that tonight. We don't hit the panic button.

-- Rangers DH Michael Young

From 23 runs a night earlier, the Rangers and Cardinals found themselves locked in a 1-0 duel 24 hours later. The lone run had scored on Josh Hamilton's RBI double in the first, but the Rangers missed a golden opportunity to knock out Jackson early when they left the bases loaded.

In the second inning, Ian Kinsler led off with a single and then was picked off first by catcher Yadier Molina. Murphy and Napoli drew two-out walks in the fourth, but Mitch Moreland struck out. A leadoff walk by Kinsler in the fifth was wasted.

"We just gotta keep scrappin' away," Napoli said of the Rangers' frustration against Jackson. "He had good stuff. The guy's a good pitcher.

"When someone gets on base, they're not going to give in to you. Sometimes you get [a] little aggressive and want to get the job done so early, but you just gotta back it up sometimes and relax."

Or hit the first pitch you see from a guy fresh from the bullpen.

That's what Napoli did in the sixth after Cruz and Murphy, who had leapfrogged Napoli in the batting order because manager Ron Washington wanted to break up his left-handers (Murphy and Moreland), drew one-out walks.

Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa had seen enough.

"I thought for sure that Jackson had given us what he had," La Russa said. "[Boggs] gets a ball down in the zone and I thought, Double play waiting to happen. He made the first pitch and [Napoli] jumped it."

As quick as a striking rattlesnake.

"I was looking fastball," Napoli said. "I was trying to see it up. I didn't want to hit it into the ground. I just got a pitch up that I could handle. You just have to try to get on top of it as much as you can."

The pitch was almost in Napoli's eyes, but he tomahawked it to the very back of the lower section just inside the left-field foul pole.

You know baseball and its statistics. It tell us that Napoli hit 12 home runs off high fastballs this season, most in the majors this year.

"It's a good pitch to hit," he said. "It's better than a sinking fastball down; you hit it in the ground."

Oh, yeah, much better.

If the Rangers were concerned that they were on the verge of becoming victims of the "Hang Around Theory," they didn't admit it.

"We don't really put pressure on ourselves because we know how productive we have the capability to be," Michael Young said. "We know we're always just one big at-bat away. We showed that tonight. We don't hit the panic button."

Here's how Murphy summed it up: "We've talked about resiliency a lot and if we don't get it done once, we'll come back and get it done the next time."

Indeed, they do seem to have that knack.

"It's nice if we do win and try to roll that over into the next one," Murphy said, "but we do a great job if we don't play well, if we lose, to forget about that game that night on the drive home and we wake up the next morning with a clean slate."

It doesn't get much cleaner than 2-all in the World Series.

Don't look now, Cardinals, but these Rangers just keep hangin' around.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

ALSO SEE