ARLINGTON, Texas — If legends are truly born in October, then the name of Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli could be added to Lone Star State lore right alongside Daniel Boone, Sam Houston and Nolan Ryan.
It’s Napoli who is making a name for himself not only among Ranger fans, but throughout baseball with his clutch performances at the plate with the bat, and behind the plate with his throwing arm after the Rangers’ victories in games 4 and 5 of the World Series to take a commanding 3-2 series lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now that Game 6 of the World Series has been postponed until Thursday due to rain, the Rangers’ faithful will have another 24 hours to enjoy being on the cusp of the team’s first-ever World Series championship in the team’s 40-year history.
As the 51,000-plus fans packed inside Rangers Ballpark in Arlington for Game 5 chanted “Nap-oh-lee” in unison, the Texas catcher added to his new nickname, “Nap-tober” by coming up big with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eight inning.
With the game hanging in the balance tied at 2-2, Napoli stroked a belt-high slider from Cardinals left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski into the gap in right-center field, scoring the winning runs in a 4-2 Texas victory. Napoli helped preserve that two-run lead in the top of the ninth when he threw out St. Louis outfielder Allen Craig at second base on a failed hit-and-run with slugger Albert Pujols at the plate.
Almost 24 hours earlier, Napoli provided the late-game heroics once again with a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth off reliever Mitchell Boggs that broke a 1-0 game open. Texas went on to win Game 4 by the score of 4-0.
But in both Rangers’ victories, Napoli’s efforts were overshadowed. In Game 4, it was Texas pitcher Derek Holland’s masterful complete game two-hitter that took centerstage. The next night, Napoli’s game-winning double was a footnote to the bullpen phone antics of Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
If the Rangers go on to win the World Series in either six or seven games, all indicators point to Napoli earning MVP honors.
“You want to be in those situations and do everything you can to help the team win,” Napoli said in his post-game press conference. “When those opportunities come up I am ready to go, and I want to run to the box to go hit.”
A World Series championship and an MVP trophy will be the final chapter in a storybook season for Napoli, who is hitting .314 this postseason with three home runs and 14 RBI, nine coming in the World Series. Napoli’s post-season prowess comes after the best regular season performance of his career.
He hit 30 home runs with 75 RBI and a .320 average for the Rangers this season, and had hit for 20 home runs or more the past four seasons. Napoli’s best season prior to 2011 came in 2008, when he batted .273 in 78 games with the Anaheim Angels.
Napoli would be the clean-up hitter or No. 5 batter in most major league lineups. For the Rangers, he bats either seventh or eighth — a testament to the powerful punch Texas manager Ron Washington can deploy each night on his lineup card.
And as far as what it is like to have 51,000 fans screaming your last name while you are at the plate, Napoli had just one simple response.
“It don’t get any better than that,” he said.
Well, it could, only if those same fans were to chant his name in unison during a World Series parade through the streets of Arlington.
By Rick Rogers