ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike Napoli took a mighty swing, tossed his bat aside and trotted around the bases. Fireworks exploded in the air, and Texas Rangers fans cheered wildly.
No wild throws, close plays or missed calls for Napoli in Game 4 of the World Series.
Back behind the plate, Napoli was a calming influence for Derek Holland, the young left-hander who allowed two hits and pitched into the ninth inning of the Rangers' 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night. The Rangers' victory evened the World Series at two games each.
"He has a real good feel for receiving and a real good feel for what his pitchers are capable of doing," manager Ron Washington said, "and he did a great job tonight of making sure."
The Rangers have Game 5 at home Monday night before returning to St. Louis.
Although Josh Hamilton put Texas ahead to stay with an RBI double in the first inning, Napoli delivered a big hit in the sixth when he hit a three-run homer on the first pitch thrown by reliever Mitchell Boggs.
After a weird Game 3, in which Napoli was in the middle of so much that went wrong for Texas in a 16-7 loss, he promised the Rangers would do what they've always done after losses – regroup and expect to the next one.
That they did, with Napoli deserving a lot of the credit.
"It was behind me when I left the field," Napoli said of Game 3. "I didn't really think about it anymore. I knew we had to come here and get a win, so I mean, came back today and went through my routine and let it go."
Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson was pulled after walking Nelson Cruz and David Murphy with one out in the sixth. With Napoli coming up, and fans already breaking into their chants of "Nap-o-li!, Nap-o-li!," St. Louis stalled for some time. Jackson even turned to make a pickoff throw toward second base without throwing a pitch to Napoli before Tony La Russa changed pitchers.
Boggs' first pitch was high in the strike zone. Napoli crushed it, sending it 392 feet down the left-field line and put the Rangers up 4-0.
The crowd wasn't satisfied until Napoli popped his head out of the dugout to acknowledge their cheers.
It was the second homer of the World Series for Napoli, who hit a career-best 30 in the regular season when he also set career highs batting .320 with 75 RBIs.
Traded twice in five days last January to get to Texas after his first five major league seasons with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels, Napoli turns 30 this winter.
Though Napoli had always been known as an offensive player who could hit for power, he busted a few labels people had put on him with his high average this season and the way he established himself behind the plate.
When closer Neftali Feliz got the game-ending strikeout, Napoli jumped up and thrust his right hand in the air. He then slammed it against his mitt before tossing the ball to Feliz.
It was a much different scene than Saturday night's Game 3 when Napoli played first base for the first time in this World Series.
He made a rushed throw home in the fourth that sailed past catcher Yorvit Torrealba for an error that allowed two runs to score by the Cardinals.
That came in a four-run outburst in the fourth that began when second baseman Ian Kinsler made a wide throw to first to finish what should have been a double play. Napoli reached wide to his left to snag the ball, then with a sweeping motion tagged the approaching runner squarely on the shoulder.
Almost as quickly, Napoli was holding his glove up in front of first base umpire Ron Kulpa in utter disbelief after Matt Holliday was ruled safe.
After the game, Kulpa acknowledged he missed the call. Napoli refused to blame that call for anything, saying he could have minimized the inning by making a good throw.
Less than 24 hours later, he was celebrating a victory in the middle of the infield.