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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Washington, Rangers use smarts, strength to win Game 5


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The manager who said before Game 5 that "I'm not as dumb as people think I am" was brilliant. Again.

Dumb? As a fox (on Fox). Ron Washington is sheer genius. How do we know his baseball IQ is as vast as the acreage of the entire state of Texas? Easy.

In ringing up the Cardinals with a 4-2 lost-connection of a loss in Game 5, Washington has moved his Rangers to within one victory of the first World Series championship in Texas history.

In writing out his lineup card, he's made it appear as if there are 10 Mike Napolis. Every time the Rangers come to a fork in their postseason road, Napoli is there. And he takes it.

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"I don't remember the last time he missed an opportunity like that," Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre raved after Napoli absolutely destroyed Marc Rzepcynski's pedestrian slider, turning it into a two-run, game-busting double against a naked Cardinals bullpen exposed in surely the most unique, unexpected way in World Series history.

Beltre -- and an entire Rangers dugout, and certainly a good portion of the sellout crowd of 51,459 -- had absolutely no idea how the Cardinals could have allowed Rzepcynski, a lefty, to face Napoli, a righty, when Napoli batted .319 with a .619 slugging percentage against lefties this season.

Especially when two batters later, Lance Lynn was summoned to deliver an intentional walk to Ian Kinsler and then was removed for closer Jason Motte -- whom Tony La Russa said would have faced Napoli if he had been ready.

The bullpen train wreck was inexplicable. And the Redbirds' stories weren't adding up.

The crowd was so loud the bullpen phone was drowned out and the wrong relievers were warming? The Cardinals needed a new long-distance plan. The Rangers had a great one in Napoli and, earlier Beltre.

"It was weird," shortstop Elvis Andrus said.

"We were all kind of wondering what was going on with the intentional walk and the substitution," Rangers reliever Mike Adams said. "My thought was maybe Motte wasn't ready and they used the time to get him ready. We didn't know what was going on."

Being that Napoli also batted .320 with a .657 slugging percentage against right-handers, it's pick your poison against the man who apparently will haunt the Los Angeles Angels the rest of their earthly lives for trading him last winter.

But here's where the pick-your-poison part turns tricky. Washington called Napoli into his office earlier this postseason and told him he was dropping him from sixth to seventh in the order. Then Washington dropped him from seventh to eighth.

Lots of people scratch their heads and wonder: How can this Washington dude hit a man who was 10th in the American League with a 1.046 OPS this season eighth?

Well. Nelson Cruz, who slammed six homers against the Tigers in the ALCS, is sixth. And in the eight-hole Monday night, Napoli was sandwiched between two lefties, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland.

Because Washington split up his left-handed hitters, when La Russa plays matchups, he can't bring in a lefty like Rzepcynski to face multiple batters without the lefty running into a right-hander along the way.

"It's a beautiful thing," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "What Wash did by putting him in the eight hole between two lefties, he was able to get that [situation] at the end of the game.

"Napoli's always dangerous, but against left-handers, he's even more dangerous."

Napoli and Beltre, whose solo homer in the sixth -- from a knee -- against Chris Carpenter tied the game at 2-2, have been the gifts that keep on giving in Texas since the Rangers acquired them last winter.

Not only did Napoli deliver another game-winning hit -- and he's now batting .314 with three homers and 13 RBI this postseason -- he threw Allen Craig out attempting to swipe second base in both the seventh and the ninth innings. The seventh inning was the most bizarre: Craig's attempted steal took the bat out of Albert Pujols' hands in the seventh.

This is the guy whom the Angels dubbed a defensive liability?

"I was always skeptical of trying to run on him when he was there," Kinsler said. "I never thought he was a bad catcher.'

And Beltre. He clubbed three home runs in Texas' Game 4 clincher over Tampa Bay, he's hitting .381 in the World Series and his glove could not be more gold.

For the second consecutive game, he robbed St. Louis leadoff man Rafael Furcal by snagging a screamer out of thin air before it found hitsville. It wasn't as bizarre as the Cardinals bullpen stuff later, but it was uncanny.

"First thing I heard when I got to the dugout was somebody saying, 'Good, because it could be the same game as yesterday and we won that game,'" Beltre said.

Beltre talked and talked and talked some more after this one. He signed a five-year, $80 million deal with Texas last winter because he thought the Rangers gave him the best opportunity to be in the exact spot he's in, one victory from a World Series. He could have stayed home and signed with the Angels (if there is a team having a more miserable autumn than the Angels watching all this, by the way, I'm open to suggestions). He could have signed for more money elsewhere.

But he signed with the Rangers, because he thought they could help him break his personal drought: Only two other active players have played in more games without ever having reached the Fall Classic than Beltre.

One win, and he's in.

One win, and they're in.

And ... the Cardinals were suggesting the World Series ground shifted because of the noisy Texas fans who inhibited St. Louis' ability to hear over the bullpen phone? Next time, maybe they should text.

"They all get rings," quipped Kinsler of the fans.

"I'm not against it," Beltre said. "I'll pay for it if I get one.

"I just want to get mine."

Never before has Beltre, or the Rangers, been so close.


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