ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — A wild throw home. A close play at the plate. The missed call at first base.
Mike Napoli was in the middle of almost everything that went wrong in the fourth inning for the Texas Rangers in a 16-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.
Playing first base for the first time in this World Series, Napoli made a rushed throw home in the fourth that sailed past catcher Yorvit Torrealba for an error that allowed two runs to score by the Cardinals in Game 3.
“I just yanked it,” Napoli said. “Got a groundball we needed and didn’t make the play.”
The Cardinals’ four-run outburst in the fourth began when second baseman Ian Kinsler made a wide throw to first to finish what should’ve been a double play. Napoli reached wide to his left to snag the ball, then with a sweeping motion tagged the approaching runner squarely on the shoulder.
Almost as quickly, Napoli was holding his glove up in front of first base umpire Ron Kulpa in utter disbelief after Matt Holliday was ruled safe.
“Call him safe, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Napoli said. “We had a chance to minimize the inning and we let it snowball a little bit.”
After the game, Kulpa acknowledged he missed the call.
“At the time of the play, I had him on the base at the time of his tag,” Kulpa said. “I saw a replay when I walked off the field, and the tag was applied before his foot hit the bag.”
The Rangers lost because of more than the blown call and Napoli’s error. There were other fielding blunders, and all six Texas pitchers allowed runs.
Shortstop Elvis Andrus had a fielding error that led to an unearned run in the sixth when the Cards scored four more runs the third of four innings in a row they scored multiple runs.
And while Kinsler’s throw to Napoli wasn’t officially an error, there would have been no need for a swiping tag if the throw had been on target. Kinsler had an earlier fielding error that didn’t cost the Rangers.
Among the pitchers allowing runs were the former starters who have been so reliable out of the bullpen this postseason. Scott Feldman had pitched 10 1-3 scoreless innings in the playoffs before allowing three runs in 1 1-3 inning while Alexi Ogando gave up four runs while getting only one out. Ogando had allowed only one run in 11 innings over nine playoff appearances.
Still, a lot happened in that fourth inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Rangers got three runs in a span of five pitches when Michael Young homered, Adrian Beltre singled and Nelson Cruz hit his seventh homer of the postseason. Napoli followed with a single, but the inning ended when he was thrown out at home trying to score on Kinsler’s flyball to left.
Napoli was thrown out by Holliday.
“He made a perfect throw,” Napoli said. “You try to put pressure on the defense and make bad throws, and he made a perfect throw.”
Albert Pujols, who later hit three home runs, had a leadoff single in the fourth before Holliday hit a perfect double-play ball toward shortstop Elvis Andrus. Second baseman Kinsler took the throw to force Pujols, but his throw toward first was high and a bit up the line. Napoli, who has been primarily the Rangers catcher, made a nice stretch to grab the ball and make a tag in one quick swoop.
Napoli and manager Ron Washington argued to no avail.
“Well, he missed the play, and I knew he missed the play when I went out there,” Washington said. “We still had an opportunity to get off that field with maybe them just pushing one run across the plate. We just didn’t make the plays.”
After David Frese’s double that scored Holliday, the Rangers intentionally walked Yadier Molina to load the bases with one out. Jon Jay hit a grounder toward Napoli, who snagged the ball and then threw on the run toward home.
Two runs scored on the play, giving St. Louis a 4-0 lead.
Team president Nolan Ryan held his hands to his temple while watching from his first-row seat near the Rangers dugout.
“I don’t think you can just start all of a sudden making excuses about things,” Washington said. “We had a chance to get off the field with them scoring one run in that inning right there, and we just threw the ball around in that inning, and it really messed up (Matt) Harrison’s outing because he was throwing the ball well.”
During a pitching change a couple of batters later, Napoli and Kinsler stood together halfway between first and second base.
“Just normal talk,” Napoli insisted. “We knew we had a chance to get out of that inning, and didn’t do it.”
Rangers have taken to chanting “Nap-o-li!, Nap-o-li!” each time he bats at home in the postseason. They did it even after his throwing error, and he delivered a single and two sacrifice flyballs after that.
The primary catcher during the postseason, and most of the second half of the year, Napoli was at first base with the Rangers back at home with American League rules. Washington inserted Torrealba at catcher while Young was the designated hitter, a lineup Texas has used many other times.
When asked if he would consider a change at first base for Game 4, Washington quickly responded, “Why would I have to make a change? … Any baseball player in the world could have made that bad throw.”
Copyright Associated Press