ST. LOUIS -- Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon called 2011 "The Year of the Napoli," and the Texas Rangers catcher sure capped it off with an impressive World Series. Had the Rangers won Game 7 (or Game 6, for that matter), Napoli certainly would have won MVP honors.
Mike Napoli's remarkable 2011 season, specifically his impressive second half, carried over to the World Series, where he became just the second player to have four multi-RBI games in the same World Series. The other was New York Yankees great Mickey Mantle in 1960, who did it in a seven-game loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Napoli's fingerprints were all over the 2011 World Series. Not only did he hit .350 with two homers and 10 RBIs as he produced in clutch situations, but he guided the Rangers' pitchers through games and made key throws to limit the Cardinals' baserunning ability.
Only two players had more RBIs in a World Series than Napoli, Yankees teammates Bobby Richardson (12) and Mantle (11) in 1960.
The Cardinals were careful with Napoli in Game 6, walking him three times. When they did pitch to him, he singled home a run in the fourth inning, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead. He then rolled his ankle advancing to second base and looked hurt, but he stayed in the game after walking it off.
He contributed on defense in the bottom of the sixth. After the Cardinals tied it 4-4 and loaded the bases with one out, Napoli caught Matt Holliday wandering too far off third base and fired to Adrian Beltre to pick him off.
Amidst bullpen phone confusion in Game 5, Napoli came up with the bases loaded in the eighth inning with the score tied. The 50,000-plus at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington chanted "NAP-O-LI, NAP-O-LI" as he stepped in to face left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski. Napoli hit a two-run double the opposite way to give the Rangers the lead.
Napoli hit .319 against left-handed pitching this season, and St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said later that Jason Motte was supposed to pitch to Napoli. But the bullpen couldn't hear that La Russa wanted Motte up and eventually got Lance Lynn warming instead. The bottom line: No right-hander was ready to face Napoli, and he delivered yet another big hit.
"I want to be a complete player," Napoli said after Game 5. "I'm not just here trying to be an offensive player. My job is to get pitchers through innings, give them a quality start, try to get us a win. I'm trying hard on the defensive side. That's my main goal. And then when I come up to hit, I go to hit."
Napoli was critical in the club's Game 4 win, too, after the Rangers fell behind 2-1 in the series. Napoli helped keep pitcher Derek Holland in rhythm and kept him focused on his gameplan. Napoli called off-speed and breaking pitches early in the game, and Holland quickly fell into a comfort zone, mesmerizing the Cardinals hitters in 8 1/3 scoreless innings.
It was a 1-0 game until the bottom of the sixth, when Napoli blasted a three-run homer. Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson had walked the previous two batters and reliever Mitchell Boggs' first pitch was a high fastball. There are few players in the league that hit high fastballs better than Napoli, and he crushed it to left field to give the Rangers a cushion. He came out for a curtain call as fans kept chanting his name after the homer.
Napoli had a two-run homer in Game 1 to erase a 2-0 Rangers deficit, though the Cardinals won that game 3-2 thanks to a sixth-inning RBI single by Craig.
Napoli's World Series performance ends an incredible season. During the offseason, he was traded from the Los Angeles Angels to the Toronto Blue Jays, who flipped him to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco.
Napoli arrived in spring training as the third catcher and part-time first baseman. But Napoli quickly showed he could handle pitchers, play defense and hit. He was the backup catcher before spring training ended.
After returning from the disabled list from a strained oblique on July 4, Napoli blistered the ball. He hit .383 with 18 homers and 42 RBIs as manager Ron Washington couldn't keep him out of the Rangers lineup, playing him mainly at catcher and first base.
Napoli batted .429 with eight homers and 16 RBIs in September and just carried that hot streak over to the postseason.