As Mike Napoli walked to the plate Monday night, the Texas Rangers trailed the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 with the American League Divisional series tied at one game apiece. Someone was going to win and someone was going to lose.
Napoli had been the hero two nights earlier in an 8-6 win in Game 2. Just about every Rangers fan watching on television or from Tropicana Field in Tampa, Fla., had a feeling he would do something big again.
After falling behind 0-2, Napoli battled back to even the count at 2-2. Then, Rays starter David Price, who had been keeping the Rangers off balance most of the night, made one glaring error. Napoli, as he’s done so many times this season, didn’t miss.
He’s mighty swing, the stare that followed, told every fan on both sides what had just happened. His two-run shot to left-center gave the Texas Rangers their first lead of the game, 2-1, and would eventually lead to a 4-3 Texas win, giving the Rangers a 2-1 series lead.
This is what the Texas Rangers have been about all season. Though they lost their share of heartbreakers and frustrating blowouts, there were moments that told you just how good this team could be.
They would come from behind to get a much-needed win to keep them afloat or hang on to win a nail-biter. Either way, the Rangers were finding ways to win.
They say the playoffs are all about momentum; that it’s all about getting hot at the right time. You could say this team fits that mold nicely.
Their power display in Anaheim in the final few days of the regular season was something to behold, especially Napoli’s four home runs the final two games of the regular season, putting the final nails in the coffin of his former team, the Los Angeles Angels.
While Game 1 of the ALDS was arguably one of the more frustrating games fans had seen, especially playing at home, pitchers Derek Holland and Colby Lewis, two pitchers who had had their struggles throughout this season, picked the two biggest games of the series to step up.
In Game 2, Holland fell behind 3-0 early, but got picked up by his teammates as well as the hero of the ALDS, Napoli himself. When the Rays’ lead fell, the confidence of the young Rangers’ left-hander began to climb. It was all Holland needed to be able to hang on to it and make sure it didn’t go anywhere.
One night later, in Tampa, Lewis took the ball and knew he would need to overcome the struggles that had been plaguing him. His team needed him and they needed him in a big way.
Lewis would answer and do so in shutdown fashion. Though he would give up a solo home run, it would be the only hit he would surrender all night. Seven innings, one hit, one run. The Rangers couldn’t have asked for more from their veteran.
Now it’s up to another young starter to do the kind of job the past two starters have done. They have two wins, they need one more.
Matt Harrison, all of 26 years old, will make his biggest start of the season. He will be the guy the Texas Rangers will ask to close out the Tampa Bay Rays and the American League Divisional Series. They will tell this young left-hander they do not want this series shifting back to Texas. They do not want to give this young, scrappy, Rays team one more chance to win the series.
Harrison has come up big before, but this stage will be the biggest one this season. He has the stuff and he has the ability, but will he be able to put aside his nerves and focus on the task at hand?
His offense will be there to help him, and as long as he can keep the Rays, and Evan Longoria, off the board, the Rangers will be able to celebrate and rest just a little bit before they face either the New York Yankees or Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series.
They have the Rays on the ropes, it’s time for the Texas Rangers to deliver the knockout punch.