ARLINGTON, Texas — The St. Louis Cardinals would be justified if they kicked themselves for letting Game 5 of the World Series slip through their hands.
They stranded 12 runners. They went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position. A slow-footed outfielder was out trying to steal ahead of Albert Pujols. Their manager had a communication breakdown with the bullpen.
But to say the Cardinals’ failures Monday night were the only thing that led to their demise would be a serious short-changing of the Texas Rangers.
The American League champions used their manager’s wit, saw their pitchers get big outs, and watched their offense do just enough to move within a victory of their first world championship.
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Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre swatted solo home runs, and Mike Napoli delivered a two-run double in the eighth inning as the Rangers beat St. Louis 4-2 and grabbed a 3-2 edge in the 107th Fall Classic.
The Series pauses today for travel ahead of Game 6 on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, weather permitting. Colby Lewis is scheduled to face Jaime Garcia in a Game 2 rematch.
A victory in St. Louis will take the Rangers’ franchise to a place it has never been.
“We’ve done a lot of things that this franchise has never done,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “We keep accomplishing things as a team, and we’re going to continue to accomplish things. It’s very hard to think about right now. We’re focused on winning one more game.”
Napoli delivered the game-winning runs with a bases-loaded double under peculiar circumstances. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had inserted Marc Rzepczynski to face David Murphy in a left-on-left matchup that Murphy won with an infield hit off Rzepczynski’s hand.
Manager Ron Washington had pinch hit for Murphy against Rzepczynski in Game 1 but stuck with him Monday.
“Sometimes when a lefty comes in, I feel good with Murphy being up there,” said Washington, who also ordered three intentional walks of Pujols.
The Murphy hit brought up Napoli, but La Russa didn’t have a right-hander warm in the bullpen. Napoli hit .319 in the regular season against lefties, and delivered a double to the gap to score Michael Young and Nelson Cruz.
“We needed a sac fly, and with the way he’s going right now, he got us two,” said Young, who started the inning with a double.
Afterward, La Russa said that the bullpen coach couldn’t hear a request for righty Jason Motte to start warming up above the roar of a Rangers Ballpark crowd of 51,459.
“Twice the bullpen didn’t hear Motte’s name. They heard ‘Rzepczynski,’ and they didn’t get Motte,” La Russa said. “I don’t know if it was noise. Probably real noisy.”
Whatever happened with the phone didn’t account for St. Louis’ failures at the plate.
St. Louis struck first, scoring two in the second as C.J. Wilson opened the inning by walking Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman.
Moreland got one of the runs back in the third with his second postseason homer, and Wilson managed to keep the game at 2-1 into the sixth.
He had already escaped a threat in the third by inducing a double-play grounder from Holliday with Rafael Furcal at third with one out, and got Holliday to bounce out with the bases loaded to end the fifth.
Scott Feldman kept the Cardinals at bay after relieving Wilson in the sixth, and Beltre tied the game with a 388-foot solo shot into the seats in left.
Alexi Ogando got out of trouble in the seventh, an inning that was aided greatly when Allen Craig was out trying to steal second with Pujols batting, and Darren Oliver (1-0) bailed Ogando out in the eighth.
Neftali Feliz walked Craig to start the ninth. But Pujols struck out on a 3-2 fastball wide of the zone, and Napoli again threw out Craig trying to take second.
After Holliday walked, Feliz got Berkman swinging to end the game.
“We’re going to prepare the same way,” Napoli said. “We’re a confident group. We expect to win every day, and we’ll go out there and play the game the right way.”