Fourth Inning No Holliday for Napoli


Last night’s Game Three was not all about Albert, though it seems that way now. Five hits, six RBIs and a quarter-mile’s worth of home runs certainly opens and shuts the case for Pujols as the player of the game, and the series, and the universe of ever ever, but before his three-homer outburst beginning in the sixth inning on, his Cardinals were actually embroiled in what was shaping up to be a pretty decent, perhaps even memorable, World Series contest with the Texas Rangers.

At the center of the controversial-turned-historic action were a couple of former Los Angeles Angels, Mike Napoli and Darren Oliver. Napoli in particular found himself involved in three key plays in the fourth inning alone, though they are now forgotten due to Pujols’s own three-way barrage.

In the fourth inning last night, Napoli had been pulled off the bag after what appeared to be an easy double play ball off the bat of Matt Holliday. Ian Kinsler‘s errant throw steered Napoli into the oncoming Holiday whereby Napoli tagged him on the shoulder with ball in glove a full step before the bag. However, Holliday was called safe and instead of two outs and bases empty there was only one with a man on. Two hits later Holliday would come around to score and following another walk to Yadier Molina, Napoli, normally the Rangers catcher, fielded a routine grounder from John Jay and fired wildly to the plate in an attempt to force the runner. The throw got away from Yorvit Torrealba and two more runners scored. The Rangers could have left the inning down 1-0, but instead went to the bottom of the fourth staring at a 5-0 hole.

In the Ranger half of the fourth, Napoli would once again be heavily involved. After Nelson Cruz hit his seventh homer of the post-season and staked his claim as the leader in the clubhouse before Pujols teed off two innings later, Napoli singled to center. With the score 5-3 Cardinals and Texas knocking on the door to pull even closer, Napoli and Holliday would hook up again. The burly catcher tagged up at third on a shallow fly ball to left with just one out and Texas down by two. Holliday camped under Kinsler’s fly and fired home. The throw reached Molina in plenty of time to get the lumbering Napoli, but it was also slightly up the first base line. Napoli, rather than sliding to the back part of the plate and catching the corner with his hand, slid directly into Molina and the awaiting tag. No attempt to knock the ball loose, no attempt to hook slide around. One would think that a catcher would be aware of every way a baserunner might try to score. Napoli traded his catcher’s mitt for a first baseman’s glove last night. Perhaps he traded in his catcher’s brain as well. Regardless, he was called out and the Ranger rally was over. Four Pujols at bats later, so was the game.

After singling to lead off the fourth and the fifth, Pujols absolutely tattooed an eye-high Alexi Ogando fastball into the extended media box nearly 500 feet away. He would homer again an inning later making him the first player in World Series history to rack up four hits in four consecutive innings. One record is never enough for Prince  King Albert, however. He decreed that the MLB is his world and this is his stage- his finest hour- while facing former Angel and eternal lefty arm Darren Oliver. The question was not whether he would tie the Babe and Reg-gie with a three homer game in the Fall Classic, but on what pitch. In this case it was a two-two fastball from Oliver, clocked at 89 mph, or roughly half the speed of the resulting rocket leaving the Red Bird’s barrel for the third time.

All told Pujols set or tied World Series records for consecutive inning with a hit (4), hits in a game (5), total bases in a game (14), home runs in a game (3), and runs batted in (6). Unofficially, he also established new marks for distance (nearly 1300 feet of home runs) and number of accolades. At one point during the seventh inning, FOX announcer Joe Buck commented, “(Pujols) is done heating up. He’s hot,” to which Tim McCarver, his broadcast partner, replied, “He’s been hot for eleven years.”

And never hotter than last night.