Rangers top Cardinals 4-2 in Game 5, move within one win of first ever World Series title

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Though they likely owe an assist to Tony La Russa, the Rangers are now just one win away from winning their first ever World Series title.

The Rangers defeated the Cardinals 4-2 on Monday night in Arlington and now hold a 3-2 lead in the series going into Game 6 on Wednesday night in St. Louis. Mike Napoli was the offensive star for the second straight day, delivering an opposite field two-run double off left-hander Marc Rzepczynski in the bottom of the eighth to put the Rangers in front.

C.J. Wilson danced in and out of trouble over his 5 1/3 innings of work, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits, five walks and a wild pitch. The Cardinals had plenty of opportunities on offense, but went just 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left a total of 12 men on base. They also gave away three outs via sacrifice bunts, which resulted in zero runs crossing the plate. Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver and Neftali Feliz combined for 3 2/3 shutout innings in relief of Wilson.

While the Rangers walked away with the victory, this game will likely be remembered for some real head-scratchers on the part of La Russa, some of which he chalked up to miscommunication in his post-game press conference.

Allen Craig was gunned down twice at second base with Albert Pujols at the plate while Rzepczynski was strangely left in the ballgame to face Napoli, who has a .955 career OPS against southpaws. La Russa said in the postgame that he actually wanted right-hander Jason Motte to face the right-handed hitting Napoli, but that he wasn’t able to communicate that information to his bullpen. Whether that’s true or not really doesn’t matter at this point, because leaving Rzepczynski in resulted in the decisive play of the ballgame.

With their backs against the wall, the Cardinals will send Jaime Garcia to the mound against Colby Lewis on Wednesday night as they attempt to force a Game 7.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”