ARLINGTON, Texas — A long drive by Mike Napoli, a lucky bounce near the mound, a Cardinals bullpen mixup and suddenly the Rangers were on the brink of their first World Series championship.
Napoli delivered the biggest hit of his charmed season, lining a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning that sent the Rangers past the Cardinals 4-2 on Monday night for a 3-2 edge.
The slugging catcher then capped his night of double duty, throwing out a would-be basestealer in the ninth as Albert Pujols struck out.
"Pujols is going to put it in play, he's a good contact hitter," Napoli said, "and they were just starting the runner, 3-2. As soon as I got it, I just got rid of it and put it on the bag."
Texas will try to wrap it up in Game 6 on Wednesday night in St. Louis.
If the Rangers do win that elusive crown, the Texas fans who stood and chanted Napoli's name may forever remember his two-run hit.
"Just trying to get something to the outfield, you know, get a sac fly, get that run across the board," Napoli said. "I was trying to stay short and I got a pitch I could handle over the middle of the plate and put it in the gap."
If the Cardinals lose, one play will stick with manager Tony La Russa.
It was 2-2 when Texas put runners on first and second with one out in the eighth, and reliever Marc Rzepczynski was summoned. David Murphy followed with a bouncer back to the mound, a possible inning-ending double play in the making.
But the ball appeared to glance off Rzepczynski's knee and trickled away for a single that loaded the bases. In the dugout, La Russa immediately threw his hands to his head, a true "Oh, no!" moment.
La Russa had wanted right-hander Jason Motte to face the right-handed Napoli, but bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist didn't understand his call so Motte hadn't warmed up. So La Russa had to let his left-hander stay in.
Napoli, who came close to a three-run homer in his previous at-bat, sent a drive up the alley against the pitcher with the nickname "Scrabble." The double off Rzepczynski spelled good things for Texas, with excitable manager Ron Washington waving the runners around from the dugout.
Darren Oliver earned the win and Neftali Feliz closed for his second save of the Series and sixth of the postseason.
After a travel day, the Series will resume at Busch Stadium. The weather forecast calls for rain and temperatures around 50.
"We're a confident team," Napoli said. "We can win on the road.''
Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland hit solo home runs off Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, helping Texas come back from an early 2-0 deficit.
Then Texas prevailed in a battle of the bullpens.
Octavio Dotel gave up a leadoff double to Michael Young in the eighth, struck out Beltre and intentionally walked Nelson Cruz. That left it up to Rzepczynski, and the game slipped away.
Fittingly, Napoli had a role in the final play. Lance Berkman struck out and the ball hit Napoli's shin guard and trickled up the first-base line, where the catcher picked it up and tossed to first base to end the game.
Pujols drew three intentional walks, including a pass with two outs and none on in the seventh.