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Rangers on the brink; Napoli's clutch hit in eighth is decisive

The St. Louis Cardinals spent an entire game frittering away scoring opportunities Monday night. Then they couldn't get instructions right over the bullpen phone.

The Texas Rangers got one big chance in the bottom of the eighth inning and Mike Napoli made sure they took advantage.

That contrast told the story Monday night as Napoli's two-run double snapped a tie and pushed their Rangers within one win off their first World Series championship with a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Rangers lead the series, 3-2, and the teams will be off today as optional workouts are planned in St. Louis. Game Six is slated for Wednesday night in Busch Stadium, although the weather forecast is bleak. Game Seven, if necessary, is currently scheduled for Thursday night.

With the game tied at 2-2 in the eighth, the Rangers jumped on their bid to go ahead. Michael Young led off with a double to left-center off Octavio Dotel, who recovered to strike out Adrian Beltre before intentionally walking Nelson Cruz.

Mark Rzepczynski relieved Dotel and David Murphy hit a ball to the pitcher's left that looked earmarked for a double play to end inning. But Rzepczynski tried to make a play on the ball and couldn't corral it, deflecting it slowly behind the mound as everyone was safe. Television replays showed Cardinals manager Tony La Russa tossing his hands over his head in horror at the play.

Napoli then drove a 1-1 pitch to the wall in right-center to drive in two runs, giving him nine RBIs in the series and a firm grip on the most valuable player award in the series.

"Just trying to get something to the outfield, get a sac fly, get that run across the board," said Napoli, who joined Mickey Mantle (1960) as the only players with four multi-RBI games in the same seriess. "I was trying to stay short and I got a pitch I could handle over the middle of the plate and put it in the gap."

Neftali Feliz got his sixth postseason save despite a walk and a hit batsman in the ninth, putting the Rangers on the brink of the first title in the history of the franchises which moved from Washington in 1972.

"We're excited about it," said Young, the senior Ranger. "We'll take the same approach we always have but we have a real hungry team too."

The fact the right-handed Napoli was facing the left-handed Rzepczynski was a key subplot. La Russa wanted right-hander Jason Motte, but Motte never warmed up because bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist apparently never heard the instruction over the phone due to the crowd noise.

"Twice the bullpen didn't hear Motte's name," La Russa said. "They heard Rzepczynski and they didn't get Motte. I looked up there and Motte wasn't going. I called back for Motte and they got [Jason] Lynn up."

That wasn't the only mixup in the game for St. Louis. Allen Craig was thrown out stealing in the seventh and ninth -- both times with Albert Pujols at the plate. The second time was on the back end of a double play as Pujols swung through Feliz's full-count pitch.

The Cardinals got seven strong innings from starter Chris Carpenter and lost this one at the plate, where they were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position and left 12 on base -- with nine of those at either second or third.

The Cardinals blew chance after chance. They left the bases loaded in the fifth and seventh, two on in the eighth, a runner at second in the second and eighth and a runner at third in the fourth.

The Cardinals scored twice in the second off erratic Texas starter C.J. Wilson to take a 2-0 lead but missed several other opportunities to add runs.

The failures at the plate came back to haunt them as the Rangers pulled even at 2-2 on solo home runs by Mitch Moreland in the third and Beltre in the sixth.

Texas also minimized damage by clearly avoiding any confrontations with St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, who was walked intentionally three times.

In the seventh, Craig walked with one out and Alexi Ogando was thus pitching to Pujols. The first pitch was a strike and the second was high and away for a ball, but Craig was thrown out trying to steal.

La Russa said there was a missed sign on the steal, as it was hard to believe the Cardinals would have Craig running with Pujols at the plate. Whether he was safe or out, it was going to leave first base open and put the intentional walk back in play.

And that's exactly what happened. So with two outs and the bases empty, in a tie game no less, the Rangers opted to take no chances and put Pujols on with another intentional walk.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com