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All year long, Derek Holland had been one of the most inconsistent pitchers in the Texas Rangers’ rotation. There was no telling what you would get from the young left-hander from one start to the next.
When he stepped on the mound on Sunday night in game four of the World Series, there wasn’t a Rangers fan anywhere who wasn’t biting his or her nails, nervous about what was about to transpire.
Eight innings later, Rangers Ballpark had seen one of the best pitching performances possibly in franchise history. Holland had taken the ball, and the series, into his own hands and gave his team the lift they needed after getting blown out just one night earlier.
His stuff was electric, his fastball was popping and his breaking ball had more life on it than it had all season long. With every inning that went by, the more Holland’s confidence grew. The Cardinals knew it and so did the Rangers and their fans.
The only problem was the Rangers hadn’t done for Holland what they had done all season long. Give him offensive production.
In the home half of the sixth, with two runners on, Mike Napoli changed all that. The catcher took the first pitch he saw, a letter-high fastball, and crushed it deep into the left field seats to give the Rangers a 4-0 lead.
A lead that Holland would hold until he exited in the top half of the ninth inning, giving way to closer Neftali Feliz who shut it down and helped his team close out game four and even the series at two games apiece.
C.J. Wilson can put the Texas Rangers on top
Throughout the regular season, C.J. Wilson has been the guy the Rangers have turned to when they needed a big performance. He was always someone they knew they could count on.
But since the playoffs began, Wilson went from someone the Rangers could count on to someone they didn’t know what they would get from one start to the next.
In four postseason starts, Wilson is 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA and has given up 17 earned runs in just over 20 innings pitched (21.1 IP). There isn’t a better time for Wilson to figure out what he’s been doing wrong and come up with the start of his life.
He’s not going to face an easy lineup especially with names like Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and up-and-coming star Allen Craig. Wilson can’t be cute with his pitches or try to pick apart the corners of the plate.
This needs to be a game where he follows the example of Holland. Go right at the hitters instead of trying to pitch around them. The more he looks at the scouting reports and how Holland faced them on Sunday night, the better prepared Wilson is going to be for what will be his biggest start of the season — possibly of his career.
Napoli is the hero … again
No matter what anyone says about the players the Texas Rangers added to this 2011 roster, there has been no bigger move than the addition of catcher Napoli.
Texas wanted to get him from the Angels, but Anaheim was not going to trade him inside their own division. Napoli was eventually traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and that’s when the Rangers took advantage and made the Blue Jays an offer they couldn’t refuse, sending the catcher south to Texas.
Not only has he come up big over the last few months of the season, but his heroics in the ALDS against Tampa Bay kept the Rangers in the playoffs.
He’s come up with big hit after big hit and on Sunday night, in a pivotal game for the Rangers, Napoli turned around a high fastball and crushed a three-run shot to left field to put the Cardinals away and game four on ice.
This season with Texas, Napoli hit .320 with 30 home runs and drove in 75. But the biggest stat that jumps out is working 16 more walks this season than he did last season. Why is that a big number? Because he did so in 84 fewer at bats.
The final game of the season at Rangers Ballpark
Whether fans realize it or not, this will be the last time they will be able to see their Texas Rangers in action at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. This will be the last time they will get to see their favorite players play on the biggest stage during the 2011 season.
They want to see their team pull out one more huge victory and put themselves in the driver’s seat for game six on Wednesday night. They want to celebrate with their team one last time so they can look forward to wrapping up the World Series — this time in their favor.
It’s been an incredible season for this team, but fans don’t want it to end like it did last season. They don’t want to watch another team celebrate as they did last season when the San Francisco Giants handled their Texas Rangers in five games back in 2010.
This series just feels different and, going into game five on Monday night, this series looks different. Rangers fans want one more win at home and they want to see their team come home … champions.