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Must C Call: Play at plate seals Rangers' victory

ARLINGTON -- For one split second in the Rangers' dramatic 7-6 walk-off win on Sunday against the Royals, the thoughts of Mike Napoli matched the thoughts of the 45,011 faithful at Rangers Ballpark.

As Napoli, who singled earlier in the inning, was heading from first to third base, he saw third-base coach Dave Anderson waving him home after a successful hit-and-run by Elvis Andrus got him to third. With the ball already on its way to the infield, it looked like Napoli was about to make the last out of the inning at home plate.

But the tag by Royals catcher Brayan Pena was high and Napoli was ruled safe with the winning run to cap a wild ninth-inning comeback that started with a tying homer by Nelson Cruz off Kansas City closer Joakim Soria, who was tagged with the loss after blowing his fourth save.

"'Wow, he's sending me,'" Napoli said of his thoughts at the time. "I don't know, I was running hard and I didn't break stride, so I just kept going."

By his own estimation, Napoli thought he'd be out by several steps as Pena had the ball when he was only midway down the third-base line, but Napoli kept running hard.

"I think there was too much time for me to try to run him over, so I just went in hard," Napoli said. "That's really all you can do. He could just swipe tag me away if I try to run him over, but I went in low and hard and he tagged up high."

Napoli slid low, taking out Pena's leg, and his tag was too high, as Napoli's foot had already touched the plate when Pena out his glove on Napoli.

"I feel terrible about it. It was just a mistake," Pena said. "I thought that I had him, but when I saw the replay, I could tell that he was safe."

After home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook signaled Napoli safe, Pena spiked the ball on the ground in protest.

"I thought it was real good of both Dave and Napoli to be really aggressive there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You never know what might happen. We had nothing to lose, and as it turned out, it worked out in our favor."

Royals manager Ned Yost went out to speak to Estabrook briefly, but walked back to the dugout after a frustrating defeat.

"I thought he was safe," Yost said. "Brayan was in a perfect position in front of the plate, he stepped behind the plate and he stood up. The foot got in before he applied the tag at the chest."

The aggressiveness started early on the play, however. The Rangers did not have a hit-and-run called -- Napoli just took off when he saw Joakim Soria deliver out of the windup.

Andrus saw it at the plate and hit it to right field to start things in motion.

"As soon as I saw him break to second base, I saw the big hole and shot the ball that way," Andrus said. "That was the reason I got back to first base, knowing Napoli was going home."

That was far from the only instance in which the Rangers' aggressive play brought them positive results.

First, the always-patient Michael Young swung on a 3-0 count with two out in the eighth inning and hit a game-tying two-run home run off Royals reliever Aaron Crow.

"Nothing changes, actually," Young said on his 3-0 approach. "It's the same as getting it 1-0 or 2-0. A lot of times people think 'Oh, it's 3-0 I can't miss.' That's the wrong approach. You just try to get a hitters' count, get a pitch to hit and hit it hard."

As Young trotted from home to the dugout, he found time to salute former president George W. Bush, who was sitting in his customary seats.

After the Royals scored the go-ahead run in the ninth, it appeared the Rangers' magic had run out, until Cruz hit a down-and-in fastball from Soria just over the left-field fence to tie the game at 6 in the bottom of the ninth.

"That's nothing new to me," Washington said of his team's resilience. "We haven't done it a lot this year, but we are capable of doing it. It was a big blow for Cruzie to go up there and get us back in the game."

All the late inning drama serves to obscure another rough outing for embattled closer Neftali Feliz, and an uncustomary outing from rookie starter Alexi Ogando.

The Royals scored their first five runs of the game off Ogando in the fourth inning, when the right-hander struggled to get anyone out. Five of the first six batters reached base, capped off by Pena's three-run home run into the upper deck in right field.

"I made one bad pitch," Ogando said through a translator. "They are a good team and they battle. I made a mistake on one pitch, and they capitalized."

Feliz came out for the ninth with the score tied. Leading off the inning, Chris Getz doubled to right field, but advanced to third when right fielder Cruz misplayed the ball. Alcides Escobar lofted a pitch to left field to score Getz and the Royals led, 6-5.

Even though Feliz has endured two consecutive bad outings, Washington remains steadfast that he will be the closer.

"All I want Neffie to do is be Neffie," Washington said. "He's healthy. There's nothing wrong with him. I think sometimes pitchers go through slumps just like hitters go through slumps. He's in a slump. We've got to keep giving him the ball until one day he goes out there and everything falls into place, and we can move forward." Comments