Napoli makes La Russa pay for questionable pitching change
ARLINGTON, Tex. -- It was quarter past six o'clock in the Metroplex, and the opening act was nearly over. The exodus from "Jerryworld" was beginning, with the Cowboys-Rams game in its waning minutes, and a crowd streaming out of the east end of the football palace walked across a parking lot and over a bridge and toward the redbrick ballpark. Fans in Cowboys jerseys and fans in red and blue Rangers t-shirts converged on Nolan Ryan Expressway. A "Let's Go Ran-gers" chat broke out.
The Rangers, the headliners on a mega sports day in the Metroplex, took center stage Sunday night in Arlington, and they rose to the occasion with a 4-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series.
No one one knew what to expect after St. Louis' outrageous 16-7 win in Game 3; if anything it felt like another slow-pitch softball game was on tap, with Derek Holland and Edwin Jackson taking mound and a pair of depleted bullpen units. The Rangers 'pen was so bruised and battered you almost expected George W. Bush to suit up after throwing out the game's first pitch.
But sanity was restored in Game 4, thanks to a performance for the ages from Holland, who became the fourth pitcher in the past 40 seasons to throw at least eight scoreless innings and allow two hits or fewer in a World Series game. There was no slugfest on this cool Texas night; the flags in right field were only softly blowing in during the game, and unlike Saturday night, with no right field jet stream, the ball wasn't jumping out of the bandbox. A night after they put up as many runs as points the Rams have scored in a game all year, the Cardinals totaled just two hits -- the fewest in a World Series game since Atlanta had two in Game 1 of the 1999 Series against the Yankees.
Surprisingly, the pitcher Tony La Russa turned to with Mike Napoli at the plate and the game on the line was Mitchell Boggs. Yes, La Russa's options were limited: Lance Lynn had thrown 47 pitches in Saturday's epic, and Fernando Salas had struggled miserably. But both Marc Rzepczynski, who hadn't pitched in Game 3, and Octavio Dotel, who threw 23 pitches, were good options. La Russa, though, opted for a mop-up sinkerballer who hadn't pitched in a true high-leverage situation since August.
Holland delivered a masterpiece, but the turning point of the game came in the bottom of the sixth. All night long, Edwin Jackson had been flirting with disaster, but somehow, there he was, still on the mound in the sixth, his team still in the game, down only 1-0. Then Jackson walked his sixth and seventh hitters of the night, and after 109 pitches, his night was over. Surprisingly, the pitcher Tony La Russa turned to with Mike Napoli at the plate and the game on the line was Mitchell Boggs. Both Marc Rzepczynski, who hadn't pitched in Game 3, and Octavio Dotel, who threw 23 pitches in Game 3, seemed like better options, but La Russa opted for a mop-up sinkerballer who hadn't pitched in a true high-leverage situation since August.
Boggs' first pitch to Napoli was a 95 mph fastball that the Rangers catcher crushed into the leftfield seats. The now familiar chant -- "Na-po-li! Na-po-li" -- echoed across the ballpark, and Texas' No. 8 hitter came out for a curtain call.
"Well, it looked like it was a bad decision," La Russa said of his decision. "[He] missed with his pitch." He added, "I thought for sure that Jackson had given us what he had. Boggs went in and as you saw the rest of the time, he gets a ball down in the zone and I thought: Double play waiting to happen. He made the first pitch and [Napoli] jumped it."
Said Napoli, "I knew he had a good sinker, and in that situation he's probably trying to get a double-play ball," said Napoli. "I was looking for something up and kind of had an idea they were probably going to try pound me [inside]. I just got a pitch I could handle."
"This is the Year of the Napoli, man," Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon had said after the ex-Angel hit a go-ahead home run, stole a base and threw out a base runner in Game 3 of the ALDS. That was three weeks ago -- before Napoli would hit two more home runs, both in the World Series.
The Rangers still haven't lost two games in a row since late August. On Monday night, it'll be Chris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson in a Game 1 rematch. In this strange and wonderfully unpredictable World Series, all we know is this: after Monday night, the series heads back to St. Louis and one team will be a win away from a championship.