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The pitcher is tall and lean, fluid and precise; a baseball magazine cover boy. The batter is average looking, the guy next door changing the oil in his driveway. But the batter can mash and today he did. Mike Napoli’s 2-run home run off of David Price in the 7th inning gave the Texas Rangers their first lead of the day en route to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. The victory also gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the best of five series.
Price had scattered five hits and a walk through six innings before Adrian Beltre led off the top of the 7th with a single. After a wild pitch moved Beltre into scoring position, Price threw a 2-2 fastball right into Napoli’s wheelhouse and the catcher turned on it and sent it into the left field seats. The Rangers grabbed the momentum by the horns and used their speed to gain another two runs. After Craig Gentry’s two out single knocked Price from the ball game, Brandon Gomes walked Ian Kinsler and the two base runners pulled off a double steal.
When Gomes walked shortstop Elvus Andrus as well, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon brought in left-hander J.P. Howell to face the left-handed hitting Josh Hamilton. But the career .278 hitter against southpaws came through with a line drive single to right to plate two more for a 4-1 Rangers’ lead.
Anyone who has watched the Rays since the beginning of September knows the team doesn’t give up and they didn’t on Monday either. Rangers starter Colby Lewis had tossed a gem, having allowed just one hit through six innings before turning things over to the Texas bullpen. The Rays immediately quadrupled their hit total with three straight one out singles -by Johnny Damon, Ben Zobrist, and Casey Kotchman – to load the bases. Alexi Ogando, who was a key to the Rangers reaching the World Series last season, came on to face pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez.
Rodriguez got a big break when shortstop Elvus Andrus dropped his foul pop up, but couldn’t take advantage. His ground out to the right side did score a run to cut the Rangers’ lead in half, but pinch-hitter Sam Fuld grounded out to end the inning. Desmond Jennings, who had the only hit off of Lewis – a lead off home run in the 1st inning – repeated the feat to shave the lead in half against reliever Mike Adams to start the 8th. Suddenly the cowbells were ringing loud and clear inside of the Trop. Things got to a fever pitch when Adams followed his gopher ball up with a walk to B.J. Upton.
The Rays are an aggressive team, one that is willing to run in any situation, but that philosophy backfired when Upton ran with the team’s best hitter – Evan Longoria – up at the plate. Napoli added to his good day by gunning down the Rays’ centerfielder for the first out of the inning. It proved to be a huge play when Adams then walked Longoria and Matt Joyce to put the tying and go ahread runs on base.
The Rangers bullpen came up big though; lefty specialist Mike Gonzalez struck out the lefty handed hitting Damon and closer Neftali Feliz K’ed Zobrist after a wild pitch had put both runners in scoring position. The Rays had one last shot when Rodriguez reached on a one out single in the bottom of the 9th, but Feliz induced Kelly Shoppach to hit into a game ending 5-4-3 double play.
Chalk one up for the guy next door.
Game 4 is slated for 2:07 ET Tuesday with the Rays looking to face elimination by throwing rookie Jeremy Hellickson against Texas left-hander Matt Harrison.
Of the eight division series games played between Texas and Tampa Bay the last two post-seasons, the home team has won only once (Texas in Game 2 this year).
Napoli has been the offensive star for Texas thus far. He’s 4-10 with 4 RBI and 3 runs scored in addition to his home run. Meanwhile, boppers Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz are a combined 2-22.
Drew Sarver is a senior writer for BaseballDigest.com. You can also read his work at his blog, My Pinstripes. He can be contacted at email@example.com and can be followed on Twitter at @BD_Sarver and @MyPinstripes.
Topics: Adrian Beltre, Andrus, Ball Game, Base Runners, Baseball Magazine, Ben Zobrist, bullpen, casey kotchman, David Price, Fastball, Gomes, Ian Kinsler, Johnny Damon, josh hamilton, Left Hander, Mike Napoli, Pinc, Pinch Hitter, Rodriguez Rodriguez, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Wheelhouse, Wild Pitch