Napoli's offensive presence in the lineup isn't debatable, but with the DH available for Games 3-5, Washington has a handful of defensive options. He batted .320 with 30 home runs and 75 RBIs in 113 regular-season games. Napoli also committed just one error in 35 regular-season appearances at first base. But Saturday marked his initial postseason start at first. He caught nine games and served as designated hitter once in the American League Division Series and AL Championship Series. He moved to first base in Game 5 of the ALCS against Detroit after beginning the game behind the plate.
Should Washington opt for a new first baseman, he could turn to Mitch Moreland or Michael Young, who had divided the postseason starts at first base until Saturday. Moreland made 99 regular-season appearances at first base; Young played 36 games there. Ordinarily, with right-hander Edwin Jackson starting Game 4 for St. Louis, the left-handed-batting Moreland might have a chance to start. But Moreland is batting .105 (2-for-19) in the postseason.
"It's obvious Mitch has not had a good playoff compared to what he did last year," Washington said. "We're still not giving up on Mitch. You'll still see Mitch in there."
If Moreland were to play first, Young likely would be the DH and Napoli could remain in the lineup by catching. If Young occupies first, Napoli could either catch or DH.
Napoli was involved in another critical moment earlier in the fourth. He was pulled off the bag by second baseman Ian Kinsler's wide throw on Matt Holliday's potential double-play grounder. Television replays showed that Napoli caught the ball and applied a swipe tag on Holliday before he reached first base. Umpire Ron Kulpa ruled Holliday safe, although he admitted after the game he missed the call.
"I thought he was out," Napoli said. "[Kulpa] told me he was on the bag when I tagged [Holliday], and I thought I got him before he touched the bag."
Lance Berkman singled, David Freese doubled home Holliday and Yadier Molina drew an intentional walk to fill the bases. Jon Jay then tapped a grounder to Napoli's right. Napoli moved over and in for the ball before unleashing a slightly off-balance throw home that darted not-so-slightly wide and past catcher Yorvit Torrealba to the backstop. That enabled Berkman and Freese to score. Also, Molina advanced from first to third and came home on Ryan Theriot's single.
Napoli admitted that he rushed his throw.
"I might have had a little more time," Napoli said. "But in the heat of the moment, running in like that and throwing on the run, I just yanked it a little bit."
One victim of Napoli's miscue was left-hander Matt Harrison, who allowed one run and two hits while striking out three in the first three innings. Harrison was pulled after gloving Rafael Furcal's comebacker and flipping the ball home to retire Jay.
"We just threw the ball around in that [fourth] inning, and it really messed up Harrison's outing because he was throwing the ball well," Washington said.
Harrison remained forgiving afterward.
"Errors are going to happen," Harrison said. "They just happened to happen in this inning tonight. The inning kind of got away from us. But I'm not mad at anybody for making an error. I walked guys. And the defense has been outstanding for me all season. ... It was a tough throw to come in like that. We definitely weren't going to turn two right there."
Napoli endured more indignity later in the inning. The Rangers rebounded in their half of the fourth, narrowing the difference to 5-3 on Young's leadoff homer and Nelson Cruz's two-run homer. Napoli singled to sustain the Rangers' momentum. But Holliday, playing left field, started an inning-ending double play by flinging an exquisite one-hop throw home after fielding Kinsler's fly ball to apprehend Napoli, who had tagged up at third base.
"I tried to put pressure on the defense and make them make a bad throw," said Napoli, who hit two sacrifice flies later in the game. "He made a perfect throw."