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Mike Napoli continues phenomenal season

DETROIT -- Scott Servais looked like a proud father as he stood outside the visiting clubhouse and smiled at Mike Napoli's sterling performance in the Texas Rangers' 7-3 Game 4 win over the Detroit Tigers that has them one win from a second consecutive World Series trip.

In addition to serving as the club's senior director of player development, Servais, a catcher in the big leagues for 11 years, instructs the major league backstops. And he takes pride when one of "his" catchers does well.

And boy, did Napoli do well Wednesday. In a pivotal Game 4 with the score tied, Napoli was bowled over by Miguel Cabrera in the eighth inning but hung on to get the out. He then made a terrific throw to second to get Austin Jackson trying to steal in the 10th inning and singled to center to score the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 11th.

The winning hit came after Tigers manager Jim Leyland decided to intentionally walk Adrian Beltre and have closer Jose Valverde pitch to Napoli, a risky move in what Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has coined "the Year of the Napoli."

"It was just a tremendous performance," Servais said.

Servais wasn't surprised. Napoli has done it with regularity since early July, when he returned from the disabled list after dealing with a strained left oblique muscle.

Servais had heard all of the conventional wisdom on Napoli. That the 29-year-old had a good bat but wasn't among the game's elites defensively or as a game caller. But after several sessions in spring training in Surprise, Ariz., and some work early in the season, Servais knew the Rangers had made one of the shrewdest trades of the offseason.

"He's a better athlete than anybody gives him credit for," Servais said. "He's better than what we thought we were getting. We made some adjustments early on to how he throws and he's run with it. If you're going to make a textbook throw and receive a ball at the plate, he did both in this game. Mechanically, it's as good as you can do it."

Servais said the highlight of the game for him was Napoli's rope to second base in the bottom of the 10th to retire Jackson and eliminate the chance that the Tigers could get the winning run in scoring position. The throw had to be right on line because Jackson got a good enough jump and had very good speed.

"He got his foot down in the right spot, had good release and the arm stayed online," Servais said. "It had to be prefect and it was. And it came in a crucial part of the game."

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