ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Mike Napoli kept fouling off pitches while Texas Rangers fans chanted his name.
“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.
He came through anyway.
Napoli’s tying two-run single in a five-run fourth inning against suddenly wild Tampa Bay starter James Shields sent the crowd into a real frenzy. It also propelled the Rangers to an 8-6 win Saturday night over the Rays to even the AL division series at a game apiece.
The defending American League champion Rangers had just gotten their first run of the series when Shields hit his second batter of the inning, a fastball near the left knee of Adrian Beltre that forced 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.
“The whole stadium is chanting his last name, and I get the chills,” teammate Ian Kinsler said. “I don’t know how he is up there staying focused. ... He kept battling and battling.”
Finally on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Napoli ripped a liner to left that tied the game at 3.
Manager Ron 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.
“That hit turned the switch on,” Elvis Andrus said.
Then Shields really got wild, throwing two wild pitches while David Murphy was at the plate.
Murphy fell behind 0-2, though he worked back to a full count with a couple of foul balls and a wild pitch that allowed Beltre and Napoli to move up a base.
Next came a pitch that Murphy swung at and missed, but the ball hit in the dirt and ricocheted away from catcher Kelly Shoppach, allowing Beltre to score for a 4-3 lead.
Napoli came home on Mitch Moreland’s grounder.
“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.”
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 finally got on the scoreboard in this 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,” Washington said. “But we kept grinding and kept grinding, and, you know, I think we got our confidence back.”
Texas was trailing 3-0 when 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 before Beltre got hit by the pitch.
“I felt really good out there today,” Shields said. “My (velocity) was up there. My first three innings, I was really feeling my delivery. I hit Andrus and things really started rolling there for me. I made some bad pitches and they capitalized.”
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 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.
Tampa Bay had a 1-0 lead after Shoppach, a .176 hitter in the regular season who homered twice in the opener, drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the first. That came right after 38-year-old Johnny Damon reached on his second infield hit of the series.
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.
“It was a huge game for us,” Napoli said. “For us to scrap away like we did tonight is huge to get back in the series. ... After we lost (Friday), nobody put their heads down or was worried about anything. We just knew we had to come out here and just play our style of baseball. And I think we did that.”