With a bullpen shortened by Saturday night’s marathon, La Russa called upon right-hander Mitchell Boggs, whose first pitch to Napoli was a 95-mph, letter-high heater that Napoli deposited about 15 rows up in the left-field stands. When the crowd of 51,539 went into chants of “Na-po-li! Na-po-li!” the burly catcher popped out of the Rangers’ dugout to take a curtain call.
Staked to a four-run lead, Holland became even more confident and even more overpowering, taking advantage of home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa’s generous strike zone on the inside half of the plate. The seventh and eighth innings were his best, as he set down six straight batters, beginning with Pujols leading off the seventh, on three strikeouts, two comebackers and a grounder to short.
“Considering the circumstances,” Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said, “I think that was the best-pitched game this franchise has ever seen.”
The extra-long, television-mandated break between innings provided one last moment of drama — as a good minute or so went by before a pitcher joined the rest of the Rangers on the field to get ready for the top of the ninth. With all eyes on the bullpen gate, finally Holland popped out of the dugout to a round of hearty applause.
Two batters later, after Holland issued a one-out walk to Rafael Furcal, Washington strutted to the mound, accompanied by boos, and — after first shooting down Holland’s pleas to remain in the game — pointed to his bullpen, and closer Neftali Feliz jogged in. Holland departed to a standing ovation, waving awkwardly as he approached the dugout steps.
“He was begging [to stay in]. I just told him, ‘If you want to stay out here, get on your knees,’ ” Washington said of Holland. “He walked off the field.”
When Feliz blew away Holliday with a 99-mph fastball to finish off Holland’s shutout, the World Series was all squared and pointed toward a long, drama-filled finish, and nobody could say with any certainty what might be coming next.