RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The Texas Rangers beat the St. Louis Cardinals four to nothing in Arlington, Texas last night. The win evens the series at two games apiece. The keys to the Rangers' victory were a single swing to the bat on offense and 112 pitches from their starter, Derek Holland. NPR's Mike Pesca was at the ballpark and filed this report.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Mike Napoli - Napoli. It's fun to say. Napoli.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Napoli. Napoli. Napoli. Napoli.
PESCA: Rangers fans were screaming in the sixth inning as their slugging catcher and sometimes first baseman Mike Napoli came to bat. Edwin Jackson, the Cardinals starter, seemed to be auditioning for the lead of the newest show of the fall season: "Walking Texas Rangers." He'd just given out his seventh free pass, and was lifted in favor of reliever Mitchell Boggs.
Despite Jackson's wildness, the Rangers had only managed one run up to that point, and there was a palpable sense in the ballpark that the Cardinals needed to pay. It took one pitch for some frontier justice, as the Texas Rangers Radio Network had the call.
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PESCA: The Napoli knack for Jimmy Jacks was equaled by Rangers starter Derek Holland's performance on the mound. He brought a two-hitter into the ninth, when, with one on, Rangers manager Ron Washington came out to lift the wispy-lipped lefty. Again, the Rangers Radio Network.
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PESCA: Ever wonder what gets said in those moments when the pitcher wants to stay in to finish the job, but the manager knows better? After the game, Derek Holland recounted the dialogue.
DEREK HOLLAND: I was doing everything I could. I was like, look, Wash, you know, I've made it this far. I've been working my butt off. Come on, you know. Let me get this. And he's like, no, you ain't going to do that son. You're going to get out of there. Just listen to the crowd on your way out. I can get the double play. I'm telling you. I'm going to do everything I can. I'm going to get this double play.
RON WASHINGTON: And I told I knew he can.
PESCA: Rangers manager Ron Washington.
WASHINGTON: I knew you can get that ground ball double play, but I'm going to Nefi.
HOLLAND: I was like, come on. Wash.
WASHINGTON: He was begging. I just told him if you want to stay out here, get on your knees.
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WASHINGTON: He walked off the field.
HOLLAND: Can't win that argument. And out I went.
PESCA: To the cheers of the crowd and the fastball of Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, who preserved the four-to-nothing victory.
Holland is, in turns, insouciant and intense. He revels in the pre-game playful slap his manager bestows upon him, and he's started to think of each game as a boxing match. He sits on his stool between rounds, imagining his manager as playing the role Christian Bale won an Oscar for in the movie "The Fighter." Some Rangers just shrug and laugh. I think it's great if it works, his decidedly more laconic teammate Colby Lewis says.
It will now be up to the Cardinals to respond to the shutout with as much professionalism as the Rangers responded to the 16-7 drubbing they took two nights ago.
Last night's game wasn't literally a must-win for the Rangers, but consider that when a team loses to go down three games to one, they have a less than 15 percent chance of winning the series. Teams that even a series, as the Rangers have just done, go on to win the championship at a better than 50 percent clip. There are, however, no known stats for when a pitcher takes to his knees to beg in the ninth inning.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Arlington, Texas.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.