By The Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Texas — With Texas Rangers fans chanting his name, Mike Napoli kept fouling off pitches until getting the big hit after James Shields had hit two batters.
Then Tampa Bay’s starter really got wild.
After Napoli’s two-run single, Shields threw a pair of wild pitches to the same batter. One of the balls in the dirt sent home the tiebreaking run in a five-run fourth inning for the Rangers in an 8-6 win Saturday night that evened the AL division series at a game apiece.
The defending American League champion Rangers were finally on the board in the game — and in the series after being held to two hits in the opener by 22-year-old rookie left-hander Matt Moore and two 20-something relievers in Tampa Bay’s first-ever postseason shutout.
“It was very satisfying because Tampa has some great pitching over there, and pitching usually settles down a great offense,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “But we kept grinding and kept grinding, and, you know, I think we got our confidence back.”
This time, the home team finally won a postseason game between the Rangers and Rays.
Game 3 in the best-of-five series is Monday in Tampa. Colby Lewis pitches for the Rangers against David Price.
Texas was trailing 3-0 when Elvis Andrus was hit by a breaking pitch leading off the fourth. Josh Hamilton then singled between the shortstop and the second baseman, both positioned on the right side of the infield against the slugger. Michael Young’s sharp single to left loaded the bases.
The Rangers then got their first run of the series when Shields hit Adrian Beltre with a fastball near his left knee, forcing in a run.
When Shields threw three consecutive balls to Napoli, the chants of “Nap-o-li!, Nap-o-li!” began and only grew louder with each swing. Napoli swung and missed at two pitches, then fouled off three consecutive before ripping a liner to left that tied the game at 3.
“It was pretty loud too, and when I heard it, I was like you guys can’t do this to me right now in this situation,” Napoli said. “But I put a good at-bat together.”
Ian Kinsler said he got chills hearing the chants. And things got even better when Napoli hit the ball.
Washington pumped both fists with a shout, team president Nolan Ryan clapped in the front row nearby and those chants turned to earsplitting cheers from a towel-waving crowd of 51,351.
Nelson Cruz struck out and David Murphy fell behind 0-2. What followed were a couple of foul balls and the wild pitch that allowed Beltre and Napoli to move up a base as Murphy worked to a full count. Then came a pitch that Murphy swung and missed, but the ball hit in the dirt and ricocheted away from catcher Kelly Shoppach, allowing Beltre to score. Napoli came home on Mitch Moreland’s grounder.
Napoli and Cruz had consecutive singles to start the sixth and chase Shields. Kinsler sent both of them home with a double to make it 7-3. Moreland, a former Amory and Mississippi State standout, added a towering one-out homer in the eighth for the Rangers, their first long ball of the postseason and his first at home since June 21.
The double by Kinsler and home run by Moreland wound up being huge in the rematch of last year’s AL division series, when the visiting team won every game in the five-game series — the only time that has ever happened in the majors.
Texas was 0-7 all-time in ALDS games at home, including four to the New York Yankees over three series in the 1990s, until now.
Two trades in a matter of five days last winter sent Napoli to Texas. The catcher-first baseman played the first five seasons of his career with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels, before he was traded last winter to Toronto and then dealt only four days after that to the Rangers. He set career highs by hitting .320 with 30 homers and 75 RBIs.
Fans were chanting Napoli’s name again in the fifth when he threw out B.J. Upton trying to steal third base.
Derek Holland, the Rangers’ left-hander who had gone 10-1 over his last 15 starts in the regular season, overcame a bases-loaded walk in the first inning and a two-out, two-run homer in the fourth after his throwing error extended the inning.
Shields allowed seven runs in five-plus innings. The big right-hander had thrown eight scoreless innings at Texas on Aug. 31, then allowed only one run in a complete game victory against the Rangers five days later at Tropicana Field. He had hit only five batters and thrown four wild pitches over 249 1-3 innings in his 33 regular-season starts before that horrible inning in the playoffs.
“I thought he had some really good stuff. He had nice tempo and rhythm about him, and all of a sudden a couple of hit batters. That’s real unusual,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He was composed, he was fine. He just hit a couple of guys. He was just trying to make an even better pitch and that’s what got him in trouble right there.”
Tampa Bay had a 1-0 lead after Kelly Shoppach drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the first. Shoppach, a .176 hitter in the regular season who homered twice and drove in five runs in the series opener, walked after 38-year-old Johnny Damon reached on an infield single.
That lone run looked liked it might be plenty for Shields the way he was throwing early. He had three consecutive strikeouts against Beltre, Napoli and Cruz when all the sluggers swung at pitches that darted down close to the plate — for the last two outs of the second, and to start the third.
Before Shields’ meltdown in the bottom of the fourth, the Rays went up 3-0 in the top half. Casey Kotchman reached on Holland’s two-out throwing error before Matt Joyce pulled a homer into the facade of the second deck of seats in right field.
Tampa didn’t score again until Rangers reliever Koji Uehara failed to retire any of the three batters he faced to start the seventh.
Desmond Jennings had a leadoff walk, Upton followed with a single and Evan Longoria hit a 415-foot homer to left-center to make it 7-6.
Darren Oliver came on to get three quick outs and get out of the seventh before Mike Adams and closer Neftali Feliz both had scoreless innings to finish off the Rays.
The bases were loaded after Damon’s second infield hit in the series, beating the throw by a step on his two-out grounder up the middle that Holland swiped at before shortstop Andrus made a diving stop. Upton had doubled before Longoria walked.
NOTES: When Jennings popped a ball down the left field line in the second inning, umpire Marvin Hudson initially held both hands up in the air as if to indicate foul ball before pointing into fair territory. On replays, the ball appeared to hit the chalk line. Upton then flew out to end the inning. … Price lost twice to the Rangers in last year’s AL division series, in the opener and the Game 5 clincher against Cliff Lee. Price struck out 14 with no walks in 12 2-3 innings, but gave up eight runs in those games.