Mike Napoli

No doom and gloom for the Texas Rangers

Professional sports are a business, and fans of the Texas Rangers were reminded of that in December. Longtime face of the franchise Michael Young was traded to Philadelphia. The tip of the Rangers’ offensive spear the last five years, Josh Hamilton, left for enemy territory and signed a contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Fan favorite Mike Napoli changed zip codes and left for Boston.

While the holes left by those defections seem ominous heading into the 2013 season, Rangers fans need not fret. While the Rangers played with a full deck the last three seasons, two of which landed them in the World Series, the Rangers still have more than enough fire power to compete for a division crown and a chance to finally win their first ever World Series.

The Rangers return their top three starters from last year’s 93-win team. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish were both All-Stars in 2012 and both held sub 4.00 ERAs through the end of the season. Jon Daniels and his staff also decided to move flame-throwing righty Alexi Ogando from the bullpen back into the rotation, where he was an All-Star and anchor through the 2011 season. Derek Holland, coming off his 175-inning campaign last season figures to have more in the tank heading into 2013, and an unnamed fifth starter out of a pool of promising prospects figures to round out what should be a rather formidable rotation. And whatever you do, don’t forget that Colby Lewis will return to the rotation at some point in the summer. He’s arguably the best pitcher in the Rangers’ recent run of dominance, and the 2012 season started going sideways almost as soon as Lewis went down with injury. His return should provide a big boost.

The bullpen lost key pieces in Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and Alexi Ogando’s move to the starting rotation doesn’t help the cause. Even with all those subtractions, the bullpen still figures to be good enough to get the job done. Left-hander Robbie Ross figures to be ready for a more prominent role in the back end of the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot, and the signing of Joakim Soria will help when he returns from Tommy John surgery. Joe Nathan should continue to be a rock as the closer, and the free agent addition of Jason Frasor should add to the depth. The kids, including Tanner Scheppers, Wilmer Font and Martin Perez will also beef up the pen and add quality depth.

The pitching looks to be in good shape heading into spring training barring any injuries, but the offense is where the question marks start to seep in. The loss of Hamilton will undoubtedly sting, but Mike Napoli had a rough year at the dish and Michael Young was one of the statistically worst everyday players in all of baseball. Past nostalgic memories of those players don’t contribute to future success, and although their losses will be felt, the Rangers should be just fine. Healthy seasons from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz will go a long way, and a new hitting coach, who can hopefully get Ian Kinsler back to his productive ways, will help as well. The addition of Lance Berkman to the middle of the lineup should help to ease the loss of Hamilton and the Rangers will have a couple of the best prospects in all of baseball, Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, waiting in the wings in Round Rock if the offense gets off to a rough start. While the Rangers may not lead the league in runs scored like they did in 2012, they should produce enough to keep them in competition.

Yes, change is always scary, especially when you get away from a couple of players who were such core pieces in the franchise’s first taste of real success. But looking back at the past couple of World Series winners, it’s not always the most talented team that comes out on top. The Giants, twice, and the Cardinals were both anchored by pitching and defense with just enough offense to get the job done, and that looks like what the Rangers have heading into 2013. If the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays have taught us anything, it’s that pitching and defense matter most. Don’t fret the upcoming 2013 season, Rangers fans. Barring anything catastrophic, they will be right in the thick of things come October.

The Rangers closed the 2012 season in dismal fashion, blowing a five game division lead to the Oakland A’s with eight games remaining.

After being bounced by the Orioles in the inaugural Wild Card play-in game, the Rangers went into the winter with more questions than answers. Would Josh Hamilton return after his abysmal final four months, capped by the dropped fly ball in Oakland on the last day of the season that helped cost the Rangers the division? Would they land Zach Greinke off the free agent market to help beef up the rotation? Would Mike Napoli start the year in Arlington, or elsewhere?

When the hot stove started heating up at the Winter Meetings in Nashville during early December, it appeared as though the Rangers had their hand in every rumor out there. There was a point when it seemed like a certainty that they would land the biggest prize on the free agent market in Greinke. There were talks of them trading a few top prospects to Tampa Bay for starter James Shields. There were talks of them making a trade for Arizona’s slugging outfielder Justin Upton, and there was talk of them retaining Hamilton on a somewhat team-friendly deal.

And then, as fast as all the buildup came, it all came crashing down around the head of GM John Daniels. The first domino to fall was Mike Napoli taking a three-year contract to go play in Boston, although there are still some issues getting his contract finalized. Greinke landed a huge contract from the now budget-less Los Angeles Dodgers to the tune of $147 million over six years, the largest contract for any right handed pitcher in MLB history. Kansas City emptied the top half of their farm system and sent it to Tampa Bay in exchange for Shields. Hamilton took his 125 million dollar contract offer from the division rival Angels and jumped to the enemy, all while the Rangers were trying to figure out how everything unraveled so fast.

Even though the Rangers appeared primed to be the offseason winners in early December, all is not lost in Arlington. The winter is not over, and some minor moves have been made to combat the flurry of activity elsewhere. They added former White Sox Catcher A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year deal to replace the departed Napoli. Pierzynski is coming off a career year with the Sox as he belted a career high 27 home runs and had 77 RBIs, and should be an upgrade for the pitchers while calling the game from behind the plate.

They signed former Kansas City closer Joakim Soria to a three-year deal to bolster the bullpen. Soria didn’t make a single pitch in 2012 after being shut down on April 3rd for the second Tommy John surgery of his career. The Rangers are planning on Soria being ready to go by June, and should provide a nice boost to the back end of the bullpen. Soria was a two-time All-Star with the Royals, and if he can come back healthy, will provide the boost the front office was looking for.

The Rangers also landed Lance Berkman, inking him to a one year deal to fill the DH hole left open by the trade of Michael Young to Philadelphia. Berkman only played in 32 games in 2012, but is expected to be healthy for Opening Day and should be a decent bat in the middle of the order.

While the Rangers didn’t make the big splash everyone was expecting, they have constructed a roster that should compete for the AL West crown again. Hamilton’s departure will sting, but Daniels made the right move by not tying his financial flexibility over the next five years to an injury riddled, middle aged outfielder who has probably seen his best days. Pitchers and catchers report in 26 days and there may be more moves to be made, but Daniels has said he feels comfortable with what they have on board. Now we’ll have to see if he has an ace up his sleeve to help solidify that feeling.

2011 World Series

St. Louis Cardinals' David Freese hits a two-run triple off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Neftali Feliz during the ninth inning of Game 6 of baseball's World Series on Thursday in St. Louis.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — David Freese homered to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals forced the World Series to a Game 7 by rallying from two-run deficits against the Texas Rangers in the 9th and 10th on Thursday night.

Freese hit a two-run triple just over a leaping Nelson Cruz to tie the score 7-7 in the ninth inning against Neftali Feliz. Then, after Josh Hamilton put Texas ahead with a two-run homer in the 10th off Jason Motte, Ryan Theriot hit an RBI groundout in the bottom half and Lance Berkman tied it 9-9 with a single. Freese’s shot to center came off Mark Lowe.

Game 7 is Friday night.

Texas had built a 7-4 lead in the seventh when Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit consecutive home runs off Lance Lynn, and Ian Kinsler added an RBI single off Octavio Dotel.
Allen Craig’s second homer of the Series cut the gap in the eighth against Derek Holland.

In the ninth, Albert Pujols doubled with one out off Feliz and Berkman walked on four pitches.

Craig took a called third strike, and Freese fell behind in the count 1-2. He sliced an opposite-field drive, and when Cruz jumped, the crowd of 47,315 at Busch Stadium couldn’t tell at first whether he caught it.

Feliz then retired Yadier Molina on a flyout to right, sending the game to extra innings.

With Texas ahead 3-2 in the Series and one win from its first title, the Rangers also wasted 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 leads. The Cardinals made three errors in a Series game for the first time since 1943, and Rangers first baseman Michael Young made two, with each team allowing two unearned runs.
Matt Holliday was picked off in the sixth at third base by catcher Mike Napoli, thwarting the Cardinals’ attempt to go ahead, and he had to leave the game because of a bruised right pinkie.

Hamilton’s RBI single had put the Rangers ahead in the first off Jaime Garcia, Berkman’s two-run homer gave the Cardinals the lead in the bottom half and Kinsler’s run-scoring double tied it 2-all in the third.

Cruz reached when Holliday dropped a flyball leading off the fourth and came home when Napoli singled for his 10th RBI of the Series. Berkman then got to first on a throwing error by Young starting the bottom half and scored on Molina’s grounder.

Freese dropped Hamilton’s popup to third leading off the fifth, and Young lined a pitch from Fernando Salas to the gap in left-center. An error by Young on Holliday’s sixth-inning grounder was followed by three straight walks, including two by Alexi Ogando.

Colby Lewis allowed four runs — two earned — and three hits in 5 1-3 innings.

Texas got far better swings against Garcia than it did in Game 2, when he allowed three hits in six shutout innings. This time, he gave up five hits and two walks, throwing 59 pitches, and seven of the first 13 Texas batters reached base.

Just 24 of the 61 previous teams with 3-2 leads won Game 6, but 41 of those 61 teams went on to win the title. Eighteen teams trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven format bounced back for championships, including 12 that swept the last two games at home.

In an effort to provide more production behind Pujols, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa moved Berkman to cleanup and dropped slumping Holliday down to fifth.
Rangers manager Ron Washington moved the hot-hitting Napoli up one spot to seventh and had Craig Gentry hitting eighth, as he did in Game 2.

Four Cardinals Hall of Famers, wearing cardinal red sports jackets, stood at home plate before the game. Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith. And then the greatest Cardinals player, 90-year-old Stan Musial, was driven from the right-field corner to the plate in a golf cart. Wearing a red sweater and Cardinals warmup jacket, he greeted his fellow Hall of Famers and watched 2006 Series MVP David Eckstein throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Texas went ahead 10 pitches in. After starting with a called strike, Garcia walked Kinsler on four straight pitches, and Elvis Andrus’ hit-and-run single put runners at the corners. Hamilton pulled the next pitch into right field for a single and his third RBI of the Series.

Garcia recovered to strike out Young and Beltre, then got Cruz to hit into an inning-ending forceout on his 23rd pitch.
Lewis quickly gave back the lead. Skip Schumaker, moved up from eighth in the batting order to second, singled with one out in the bottom half. Pujols flied out on the next pitch. Berkman also swung at the first pitch, sending an 89 mph offering over the center-field wall.

Napoli walked leading off the second and Gentry singled him to second. Lewis bunted directly at Freese, who started a rare 5-6-4 double play. Shortstop Rafael Furcal took the throw at third for the force, then threw to second baseman Nick Punto covering first.

Kinsler followed with a ground-rule double that hopped over the left-field fence, tying the score 2-all. La Russa then had Mitchell Boggs start warming up after Garcia had thrown just 42 pitches to 10 batters,

Andrus hit an inning-ending lineout to right that Berkman slightly misjudged and caught with a jump.

Schumaker and Pujols flied out just in front of the warning track in the third. Other than his 5-for-6, three-homer, six-RBI performance in Game 3, Pujols is 1 for 17.

St. Louis, tied for fourth in the majors in errors during the regular season, started to get sloppy in the fourth. Cruz led off with a fly to short left, where Holliday called for Furcal to take it, only for the shortstop to back off. The ball then bounced off Holliday’s glove for a two-base error.

Napoli sliced a single down the right-field line, kicking up chalk from the foul line, to put Texas ahead 3-2. After Gentry struck out, Lewis bunted to Pujols, who threw to second in time for a forceout, but first base umpire Jerry Layne called the ball foul. Lewis bunted the next pitch to Salas, who threw the ball into center field. Not sure whether to slide, Napoli went in awkwardly and turned his left ankle. He stayed in, but the base was later replaced.

Salas escaped further trouble by throwing a called third strike past Kinsler and retiring Andrus on a fly to left that turned Holliday around in the wind.

Berkman led off with a grounder to Young, who bobbled it and made a throw that pulled Lewis off the base for an error on the first baseman. Holliday walked for the second time, and Furcal bounced into a forceout to second, with Andrus’ throw to first for a double play way high and bouncing off a screen near the dugout. Molina followed with a grounder to third that drove in his sixth run of the Series.

After Young’s double, Napoli was intentionally walked with two outs, and pinch-hitter David Murphy walked to load the bases. While Yorvit Torrealba was in the on-deck circle to hit, Washington left Lewis in the game, and he struck out in three pitches.

Berkman reached on an infield hit. Young then picked up Holliday’s grounder, thought about throwing to second and allowed the ball to pop free. Berkman then just beat him to the bag.

Walks to Freese and Molina forced in a run, and Napoli picked off Holliday at third, with Holliday bruising his right pinkie and leaving the game. After a wild pitch, Punto walked and Holland retired Jon Jay on a comebacker.

2011 World Series

Adrian Beltre admires his game-tying homerun on one knee in the sixth inning. Two innings later, Mike Napoli broke the 2-2 tie with a bases-loaded double as Texas beat St. Louis, 4-2. The Rangers are now one win away from winning their first-ever World Series championship.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ARLINGTON — Mike Napoli hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning against Marc Rzepczynski, and the Texas Rangers rallied from a two-run deficit to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 on Monday night and take a 3-2 World Series lead.

Solo home runs by Mitch Moreland in the third and Adrian Beltre in the sixth off Chris Carpenter sparked the Texas comeback. Michael Young doubled off loser Octavio Dotel leading off the eighth.

Darren Oliver got the win in relief of C.J. Wilson, and Neftali Feliz finished for his sixth save of the postseason, striking out Albert Pujols as part of a double play when Allen Craig was caught stealing second.

Colby Lewis starts Game 6 for the Rangers on Wednesday in St. Louis, trying to wrap up their first title. Jaime Garcia starts for the Cardinals.

After Young’s double, Beltre struck out and Nelson Cruz was intentionally walked.

Dotel relieved Rzepczynski and David Murphy reached on an infield single to load the bases and Napoli doubled to deep right field, making it 4-2.

Pujols drew three intentional walks, including a pass with two outs and none on in the seventh. The St. Louis slugger then nearly used his legs to put his team ahead.

Pujols was running hard on a 3-2 pitch that Matt Holliday hit for a single to left-center. Pujols chugged around the bags and third base coach Jose Oquendo initially waved him home, only to put up a late stop sign.

Would Pujols have been safe on shortstop Elvis Andrus’ wide throw to the plate? Maybe. But it became moot when Lance Berkman was intentionally walked to load the bases and David Freese flied out against Alexi Ogando.

Beltre and Moreland hit solo home runs off Carpenter, helping Texas come back from an early 2-0 deficit.

Beltre made it 2-all with two outs in the sixth, dropping to one knee after following through on a meaty cut. He connected on a big curve from Carpenter, who had easily handled Josh Hamilton and Young to start the inning.

Beltre’s other homers this October came in a bunch. He hit three in a first-round playoff game at Tampa Bay.

Napoli almost gave Texas a cushion later in the inning. With the crowd standing and chanting his name as “Nap-Oh-Lee” flashed on the scoreboard, the catcher’s bid for a three-run homer was caught on the warning track in right-center field, just shy of the 407-foot mark.

The homer let Wilson avoid becoming the first pitcher to lose four times in a single postseason. The eccentric lefty who alternates red and blue gloves between starts had another uneven outing, working around five walks.

Wilson walked six while losing Game 1 to Carpenter and the Cardinals.

Moreland atoned for some glove woes with a home run in the third, hitting a drive halfway up the second deck in right field.

The Cardinals scored twice in the second, cashing in two leadoff walks sandwiched around a wild pitch.

Yadier Molina notched his fifth RBI of the Series with a single that left fielder David Murphy overran and fumbled for an error. Skip Schumaker followed with an RBI grounder to first that Moreland boxed around, preventing any chance at a double play.

Murphy made a diving catch to end the inning, denying Nick Punto a run-scoring hit. Punto carried his bat all the way to first base and tried to break the wood by bending it over his right thigh.

Already ahead 2-0, the Cards threatened in the third after Wilson slipped coming off the mound trying to field Rafael Furcal’s leadoff bunt and made a poor, backhanded flip that skittered past Moreland. But with runners at the corners, Wilson got Holliday to bounce into a quick double play. Not so surprising, really — Wilson induced the most DP grounders in the majors this year while St. Louis hit into an NL-record 169 double plays.

Holliday flied out with the bases loaded, after an intentional walk to Pujols, to finish the fifth.

Printed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 as: Rangers take 3-2 World Series lead

2011 World Series

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Derek Holland kept Albert Pujols in the ballpark and the Texas Rangers in this World Series.

In a title matchup that’s getting more interesting with every game, Holland put the emphasis back on pitching. Given a pep talk by manager Ron Washington minutes before the game, Holland threw two-hit ball for 8 1-3 innings to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 on Sunday night and even things at 2-all.

Holland struck out seven, walked two and never was in trouble against a team that erupted for 16 runs the previous night. He came within two outs of pitching the first complete-game shutout in the World Series since Josh Beckett’s gem for Florida to clinch the 2003 title at Yankee Stadium.

“I was very focused. I knew this was a big game for us,” Holland said. “I had to step up and make sure I was prepared.”
Hobbled Josh Hamilton put Texas ahead with an RBI double in the first inning. Then Mike Napoli broke it open with a three-run homer in the sixth that set off a hearty high-five in the front row between team president Nolan Ryan and former President George W. Bush.

And just like that, for the first time since 2003, the World Series stood at two games apiece. Now the whole season is down to a best of three, with the outcome to be decided back at Busch Stadium.

Game 5 is Monday night at Rangers Ballpark. It’s a rematch of the opener, when Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter topped C.J. Wilson.

A day after Pujols produced arguably the greatest hitting show in postseason history, tying Series records with three home runs, six RBIs and five hits during the Cardinals’ romp, Holland emerged as the unlikely star.

Holland got a big cheer when he took the mound in the ninth and was still throwing 96 mph. With the crowd chanting his name, he walked Rafael Furcal and was pulled by Washington after a long talk on the mound.

“I was begging to stay out there,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll give it everything I’ve got. I can get the double play.’

“When I came off the field my arm hair was sticking up — not like I have much.”

Holland tipped his cap and waved to the fans as he walked off. His outing was the longest scoreless appearance by an AL starter in the Series since Andy Pettitte also went 8 1-3 at Atlanta in 1996.

Neftali Feliz took over and closed. He walked Allen Craig, then retired Pujols on a fly ball and struck out Matt Holliday to end it.

Pujols finished 0 for 4 and hit the ball out of the infield only once.

“I wanted him to see my ‘A’ game,” Holland said.

Said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “Well, I would just say he worked us over. Give him credit.”

“Good pitching is always going to stop good hitting,” he said.

Holland was in tune all evening with his Napoli, his pal and catcher. Much better than the battery for the pregame ceremony — Bush tossed a wild pitch that glanced off the catcher’s mitt Ryan wore.

“I should’ve gone with the regular glove,” Ryan said with a chuckle.

The bounce-back Rangers managed to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since Aug. 23-25, a streak that’s kept them out of trouble in the postseason.

The Rangers also completed a Sunday sweep in the matchup of teams from St. Louis and the Dallas area. Earlier in the afternoon, the Cowboys beat the Rams 34-7 right across the parking lots. Hamilton and Lance Berkman served as honorary captains for the pregame coin toss, wearing their baseball uniforms.

Many fans might remember Holland from last year’s World Series. He’s the reliever who came in against San Francisco, walked his first three batters and promptly got pulled.

Maybe that guy was an impostor. Because this 25-year-old lefty with the sorry little mustache was completely poised, with pinpoint control. Perhaps it was the talk he got from Washington near the dugout shortly before taking the mound.

Washington put both hands on Holland’s shoulders and talked to him tenderly, like a dad about to send his teenage son off to college. Holland kept nodding, and Washington finished up with a playful pat to Holland’s cheek.

“He shows that he cares about all his players, and he definitely showed that when he talked to me,” Holland said.

After that, Holland was in total command in his first Series start, and improved to 3-0 lifetime in the postseason. The only hits he allowed were by Berkman: a double in the second and a single in the fifth. Holland got even later, getting Berkman to look at a strike three that left the St. Louis star discussing the call with plate umpire Ron Kulpa.

Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson kept his team close despite a wild night. He walked seven, and eventually they caught up with him.

It was 1-0 when La Russa yanked Jackson after two one-out walks in the sixth and signaled for reliever Mitchell Boggs. Napoli was up, and the sellout crowd chanted his name as he stepped into the batter’s box.

Boggs stayed in the stretch for an extra beat while Furcal ducked behind Nelson Cruz from shortstop. When Boggs finally threw a 95 mph fastball with his first pitch, Napoli whacked it.

Napoli stood at the plate for a moment as the ball sailed deep, just inside the left field line. Boggs could only contort his body, seeing the game get out of hand.

Hamilton forced the Cardinals to play catch-up for the first time in a while. St. Louis had scored first in 10 straight postseason games, one shy of the record set by Detroit during a span from 1972-84.

Elvis Andrus singled with one out in the Texas first and sped home when Hamilton doubled into the right field corner. The reigning AL MVP has been slowed by a strained groin, part of the reason he hasn’t homered in 57 at-bats this postseason.

2011 World Series

Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz canÂ’t come up with a hit by St. Louis CardinalsÂ’ outfielder Allen Craig during the sixth inning of Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday in St. Louis.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Nelson Cruz sprinted over to the foul line, desperately trying to run down Allen Craig’s tailing liner. The right fielder came up just short, and so did the Texas Rangers.

Craig’s pinch-hit drive landed an inch or two in front of Cruz’s outstretched glove for a go-ahead single off reliever Alexi Ogando in the sixth inning that carried the St. Louis Cardinals over the Rangers 3-2 Wednesday in a chilly World Series opener.

On a night when all the runs were driven in with opposite-field hits to right, Lance Berkman put St. Louis ahead with a two-run single in the fourth against C.J. Wilson.

Rangers catcher Mike Napoli watched in dejection as Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday scored, but a few minutes later celebrated in the top of the fifth when he tied it 2-all with a two-run homer off Chris Carpenter.

While the Rangers’ bullpen couldn’t hold on, five St. Louis relievers combined for three innings of one-hit relief. Not that Texas didn’t have its chances — the Rangers were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.

Colby Lewis starts for the Rangers on Thursday night, trying to send the Series back to Texas tied at a game apiece.
Game 1 has been an indicator of success in recent decades: The winner has captured seven of the last eight titles, 12 of the last 14 and 19 of the last 23. In addition, the team hosting Game 1 has won 20 of the last 25 World Series.

A year after making their first World Series appearance, a five-game loss to the San Francisco Giants that opened with an 11-7 loss, the Rangers were back.

Taking over as ace after Cliff Lee left to sign with Philadelphia, Wilson dropped to 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA in four postseason starts this year, allowing three runs and four hits in 5 2-3 innings with a career-high six walks — two of them intentional.

He prepared for the start by getting in a tank of liquid nitrogen at 295 degrees below zero — the treatment is said to aid recovery — but on a blustery, 49-degree night his walks and a key wild pitch got him into some hot spots.

He fell behind after bouncing a pitch in the fourth that hit three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols on the left foot. That started a streak of three bad pitches in a four-pitch span.

Wilson tried to go inside on Matt Holliday but left the next one over the plate, and Holliday hit an opposite-field double into the right-field corner as Pujols took third.

Then, with the count 1-0 to Berkman, Wilson tried to go inside again but allowed the ball to drift over the plate.

Berkman went the other way and chopped the ball over first base and into right field as the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead. Wilson shook his head back and fourth as he walked back to the mound.

The lead was short-lived.

Adrian Beltre singled leading off the fifth and, one out later, Napoli turned on a high pitch and sent it about 10 rows deep into the right-field seats for his second home run of the postseason. A fired-up Carpenter had escaped a two-on, none-out jam in the second inning when Napoli hit into an inning-ending double play.

Pujols had Cardinals fans cheering in the top of the sixth when he slid to stop Michael Young’s grounder behind first and threw to Carpenter for the out, stranding Ian Kinsler at third.

Then in the bottom half, NLCS MVP David Freese hit an opposite-field double to right with one out and went to third on a wild pitch. Wilson struck out Yadier Molina, then pitched carefully to Nick Punto and walked him on four pitches.

Ogando relieved, and with many of the red-clad Cardinals fans standing and waving white towels, Craig sliced a 1-2 pitch down the right field line. Cruz, the ALCS MVP, came oh-so-close to making the sliding catch, but the ball bounced just in front of his glove as Freese scored. Texas was lucky that the ball struck Cruz on a foot; otherwise, it could have rolled to the fence.

Carpenter became the first St. Louis starter to reach the sixth inning since the division series. He got the win, allowing two runs and five hits in six innings with four strikeouts and one walk. Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte followed, with Motte getting three outs for his fifth postseason save.

With one out in the ninth, Beltre was called out on a grounder to third on a ball that appeared to bounce off his foot and could have been ruled foul. The call didn’t go the Rangers’ way.

It was that kind of night.

Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli admires his seventh-inning homerun off Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price. The Rangers are a win away from going to its second straight ALCS.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG — Back on the road in the playoffs, the Texas Rangers won again.

Colby Lewis outpitched All-Star David Price, Mike Napoli hit a go-ahead two-run homer and the defending AL champions survived a shaky night from the bullpen to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 Monday night in Game 3 of their postseason series.

The Rangers’ fourth straight division series road win matches the third-longest streak in major league history and gives Texas a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4 Tuesday at Tropicana Field. Texas won three ALDS games here a year ago, when it eliminated Tampa Bay in five games.

Rookie Desmond Jennings hit a pair of solo homers for the Rays, who kept it interesting by scoring twice off Rangers relievers before Neftali Feliz got four outs for his second save of the series.

Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, playing deep and guarding the line to prevent a double in the ninth, started an around-the-horn double play on Kelly Shoppach’s grounder to end it.

Price was the losing pitcher in two of Tampa Bay’s playoff losses in 2010 and welcomed the opportunity to try to redeem himself against the only AL opponent he’s yet to beat in his career.

The left-hander shrugged off a poor outing in his last regular season start to take a 1-0 lead into the seventh, thanks to Desmond Jennings’ fourth-inning homer off Lewis.

Beltre singled leading off the seventh against Price and took second a wild pitch. A crowd of 32,828 — the first sellout at Tropicana Field since opening day — fell silent when Napoli lifted a 2-2 pitch into the seats in left-center for a 2-1 advantage. Josh Hamilton extended the lead with a two-run single off reliever J.P. Howell.

As good as Price was early, Lewis was better in limiting the Rays to one hit over six innings. Jennings’ first homer was the only hit off the right-hander, who had worked 16 consecutive scoreless innings against the Rays up to that point — a stretch that began with a five-inning stint in last year’s ALDS and continued with an eight-inning performance to beat Price and the Rays on June 1.

But the Rangers bullpen nearly let a three-run lead slip away.

Johnny Damon, Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman singled to load the bases against reliever Darren Oliver in the seventh. Damon scored when pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez grounded out, and the Rangers escaped further damage when the second pitcher of the inning, Alexi Ogando, induced pinch-hitter Sam Fuld to hit a roller to second base.

The Rays weren’t finished. Jennings led off eighth with his second homer, trimming Texas’ lead to 4-3. Mike Adams walked B.J. Upton, who was caught stealing, and then walked Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce to get himself into trouble again.

The Rangers wiggled off the hook when Michael Gonzales struck out Damon. Feliz came on to fan Zobrist with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

Price lost at home to Cliff Lee and the Rangers twice in last year’s ALDS and was coming off a disappointing outing against the Yankees in which he allowed six runs in four innings of a game that the Rays needed to win to ensure they stayed alive for the wild-card berth on the final night.

Tampa Bay rallied from a seven-run deficit to grab the playoff spot on Longoria’s homer, but that didn’t stop questions about whether the Rays could count on him in a big game.

The 26-year-old lefty was 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA in eight career starts against Texas before Monday, yet insisted he didn’t lack confidence to get the job done in Game 3.

The Rangers had chances against him early, stranding runners in scoring position in the first, second and sixth innings. Michael Young lined to first baseman Kotchman, who made a diving catch to end the first. Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland grounded out after Napoli singled and stole second base in the second. Price escaped the sixth by retiring Hamilton and Young on groundballs.

With Lewis pitching, Rays manager Joe Maddon tinkered with the bottom of his batting order, stacking six consecutive left-handers behind righty-hitting Jennings, Upton and Longoria, who went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts against the Rangers starter — once with Upton in scoring position after walking and stealing second in the fourth.