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Rangers show they can beat you with bats, gloves or a bit of both


DETROIT -- The hits fit the image. The defense doesn't.

The hits have the Rangers on the verge of a second straight trip to the World Series. The defense does, too.

Mike Napoli may as well be the symbol of these Rangers, because everyone thought he could hit, and quite a few said he couldn't catch. Now we're seeing he can do both.

We're seeing how many different things the Rangers can do, how many different ways they can win a game. They won Game 4 of the American League Championship Series three or four different times Wednesday night, won it three or four different ways.

And Napoli was involved in just about every one of them.

He got the hit that put the Rangers ahead in the 11th inning, sending them to their 7-3 win over the Tigers and giving them a 3-1 lead in this ALCS.

He took the hit from Miguel Cabrera on a key play at the plate, after taking the perfect throw from Nelson Cruz that kept the game tied in the eighth.

And he made the throw to catch Austin Jackson trying to steal in the 10th, again keeping the game tied and keeping Cabrera from coming to the plate with a runner on base.

What didn't he do? Well, he didn't hit the home run that provided the Rangers with their final three runs. Cruz did that, hitting the 10th postseason home run of his career and the second extra-inning home run of this series (becoming the first guy ever to hit two in one postseason series).

"It's incredible," left fielder David Murphy said. "It's almost like there's Nellie, and then there's postseason Nellie."

Yeah, just like there's Napoli, the guy the Angels traded because they didn't think he could catch. And Napoli, the guy who looks pretty darned good behind the plate as a Ranger.

"He's tremendous," said Scott Feldman, who was on the mound when Napoli threw Jackson out. "It's really hard for me to believe he was ever labeled a bad defensive catcher. I don't think I've shaken him off more than once or twice. He knows hitters.

"And as you saw, he can throw."

ALCS: Rangers at Tigers
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Yes, we saw. Presumably, the Angels saw, too.

"I always thought I was a pretty good catcher," said Napoli, who became a Ranger by way of the Blue Jays, who kept him for just four days after the Vernon Wells trade. "It's real satisfying. I'm back there showing what I can do. I want to be both. I want to hit, and I want to be a good defensive player."

That's kind of the story of the Ron Washington Rangers, as different as they could be from those old Rangers teams that hit and hit and hit -- and never made it this deep into a season.

The Rangers still have a deep and powerful lineup -- Cruz bats seventh -- but now they understand that it's much easier to win if you have ways to keep the other team from scoring.

Their starting rotation hasn't been great so far in this postseason (Colby Lewis is still the only Ranger starter to throw a pitch in the sixth inning, and no starter has made it to the seventh), but their bullpen has been fantastic and their defense provided two great plays to save Game 4.

"We have one of the best defensive teams in baseball," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We have one of the best offensive teams. We have one of the best pitching staffs.

"We're a very good team."

And in another spectacular game in what has been a great series, the Rangers had plenty of chances to show it.

The Cruz throw in the eighth was as big as any, coming an inning after Brandon Inge's stunning game-tying home run off Alexi Ogando in the seventh.

The Tigers had runners at first and third with one out, and Washington's decision to intentionally walk Cabrera with the bases empty was about to become the night's big talking point. Delmon Young hit a medium-deep fly ball to right field, and with Alex Avila (2 for 33 in the postseason) due up next, third-base coach Gene Lamont had no choice but to try to score Cabrera from third.

Cruz has a very strong arm, but it's sometimes erratic. It made perfect sense to gamble on a throw just a little offline.

This one wasn't.

"That was as good a throw as I've seen him make," Murphy said. "And about as clutch a throw as I've seen."

It arrived to Napoli on one hop, and it was placed so well that Napoli could turn and brace for the collision with Cabrera.

"That's 265 pounds, coming at you," said Avila, the Tigers catcher.

Napoli, the guy who couldn't catch, caught the throw and held on.

"Every part of that play was perfect," Inge said.

"That was the game-changer, right there," Avila said.

It did change the game. In the three innings that followed, the Tigers had just one baserunner, when Jackson was hit by a Feldman pitch with one out in the 10th.

With Ryan Raburn at the plate and with Cabrera looming on deck, Jackson probably shouldn't have tried to run. But he did, and Napoli's throw was strong enough and low enough to nail him.

Then Josh Hamilton led off the 11th with a double, and after a strikeout and an intentional walk to Adrian Beltre, Napoli singled to center to put the Rangers ahead, to put them within one win of the World Series.

Napoli's hit got them there. His hit, and his defense.

Wonder what the Angels think about that?

They knew he could hit. The Angels wouldn't trade him to the Rangers, worried that he would haunt them in the American League West. But then they sent Napoli to Toronto in the Wells deal, and the Rangers immediately called the Blue Jays trying to get him.

They did, and now he may well be helping them get back to the World Series.


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