Maybe Sox should pay Napoli by the mile

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
1:08
PM ET
TORONTO -- Greetings from T.O., as we like to say around here, a place where it probably is less than prudent today to mention you’re from Boston, given the way the Bruins spoiled the Maple Leafs’ first appearance in the playoffs in nine years, at the same time that the Red Sox were applying a 10-1 beating on the Blue Jays.

There is one Sox player who probably will be greeted with some warmth this evening. That would be Ryan Dempster, a son of Canada (British Columbia) who has never pitched here (eight times in Montreal) but will be drawing the start Thursday night. Besides, Blue Jay fans are too upset with their own team to be slinging grief at the Sox, or maybe you missed Melky Cabrera foolishly trying to stretch a single into a double with his team down eight runs in the seventh inning. Even the booing of John Farrell, which was downright un-Canadian in its hostility on the Sox first visit here, has faded to a grumble.

And imagine if Blue Jays fans are reminded of the fact that Mike Napoli, who hit two home runs of epic length here Wednesday night, and also homered twice when the Sox visited in April, could have been wearing the home uniform.

In a trade little noted or remembered, Napoli actually was acquired by the Jays a month before spring training in 2011, as part of the trade in which Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos unloaded the bloated contract of outfielder Vernon Wells to the Angels. Four days later, however, Napoli was flipped to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco.

John Farrell was Jays manager at the time. In the four days that Napoli was one of his players, did he speak with him?

“I got his number,’’ Farrell said, “but he was on a cruise when the trade went down, so no.

“He was a sought-after guy for a number of years, but we needed a closer, and it turned into Francisco.’’

Francisco saved just 17 games for the Jays and was gone the next year. Napoli hit 30 home runs for the Rangers in 2011 and was in line to be named World Series MVP until the Cardinals came back to win in seven, then played one more season for the Rangers before signing with the Sox as a free agent.

Now, he’s crushing balls and driving in runs for the Red Sox. His first home run Wednesday night, which landed in the second deck in dead center field, was measured at 472 feet by ESPN’s Hit Tracker, which would make it the longest home run of Napoli’s career. The second home run landed in the third deck in left-center field and measured 467 feet by the ESPN crew, though to the naked eye the second one looked like it travelled even farther.

“When he hits balls, it’s kind of another planet,’’ said Stephen Drew, who yanked his first home run of the season into the second deck in right field to start Boston’s five-homer salute. “That second ball he hit, wow. I’ve been in this game and seen a lot of guys, but that probably was one of the farthest balls I’ve seen hit. He’s swinging the bat well, and it’s fun to watch.’’

Eric Soderburg, a senior stats analyst in Bristol, emailed an explanation of why the first Napoli home run measured longer.

“The first home run was hit harder with a lower trajectory (113.5 m.p.h. speed off bat and an apex height of 92 feet) than the second (112.4 mph and 133 feet), which accounts for why it went further. The big reason for this is the first home run contacted the upper deck in 4.84 seconds, while the second home run took 5.93 seconds.’’

Napoli wanted little part of this discussion, though he guessed that the second one was longer.

“It wouldn’t matter to me if it went right over the fence, it’s just the same thing,’’ he said.

Napoli had struck out in all four plate appearances Tuesday night, and also had whiffed three times in four trips Sunday at home against the Astros. He was asked how he rebounds from a 4-strikeout night.

“Obviously, pretty good,’’ he said. “I go day by day. I’m able to let things go. I had a rough night, but today was a new day. I just went into the cage, got back into my routine and focused on today.’’

Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Napoli has had three or more strikeouts in a game 17 times. The numbers speak to his ability not to let that affect his next game. In starts immediately after a 3-plus-whiff game, Napoli is batting .333 (20 for 60), with 6 home runs and 14 RBIs.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough to understand you can let those ABs go,’’ Napoli said. “Of course you don’t want to do that, but you’re not going to have a good night every night in baseball. I was able to let [the 4K game] go. I wish we’d won and I’d done that, but I know how to go on to the next day.

“I think early in my career, just trying to stay in the big leagues, it might have worn on me a little bit, but I know I’m going to be in there the next day so I know to let it go and get after it.’’

Napoli’s second home run Wednesday night came on a 3-and-0 pitch from reliever Esmil Rogers and came after an intentional walk to David Ortiz. Napoli aims to break teams of the habit of issuing intentional passes to Ortiz to get to him.

“Obviously I wanted to do something,’’ he said, “try to make them not do it again. It’s about protecting [Ortiz]. I’m hitting behind him, and if there’s a situation where I can come through and make it tougher for them to walk him, it’s going to be good for us.’’

Napoli leads the majors with 31 RBIs, two more than last year’s AL MVP, Miguel Cabrera. His 40 strikeouts rank third in the big leagues, behind Chris Carter (47) of the Astros and Jay Bruce (41) of the Reds. Colby Rasmus of the Jays also has 40 whiffs.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?