Napoli comes on strong
July, 22, 2013
By Tony Lee, Special to ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Mike Napoli’s dip in production in June and July, coupled with a day off Saturday, sparked another round of questions for the Boston Red Sox first baseman. How is the hip? Are you feeling OK? Do you think you can come out of this?
Napoli was quick to point out that he has not even discussed the condition of his degenerative hip with his doctor for several months. He said he felt fine, and insisted that his streaky nature would be good for another hot stretch soon enough. And when Napoli gets hot, as he noted with reporters Saturday, he really gets hot.
It took just one more day, but that hot stretch may have started.
Napoli hammered a pair of home runs in Boston’s 8-7 win over the New York Yankees on Sunday night, a three-run blast in the third inning to give the Red Sox their first lead, then a missile into the center-field bleachers with two outs in the 11th to win it.
The game-winner not only reaffirmed Napoli’s notion that he gets his in bunches, but it redeemed him from the role of goat after he hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the eighth. That only delayed his heroics.
Napoli actually had been showing small signs of rediscovering that slugging stroke. He has eight extra-base hits (four homers, three doubles and a triple) in his past 12 games after recording zero in his previous 11. He said he has improved his timing of late. He also said that no matter where his average or slugging percentage sits, his approach never changes.
“Every time I’m trying to drive the ball somewhere,” he said after hitting his 12th and 13th home runs of the year. “Got a ball up and made good contact.
“It’s a great feeling. You see us all out there going crazy, ripping each other’s jerseys off. It’s fun, it’s a fun thing to do. It’s about winning. You win a ballgame, especially a tough game like that, up and down. It was a great feeling.”
Napoli also struck out three times, giving him a line that is somewhat symbolic of his all-or-nothing approach. He doesn’t get cheated, and the Sox are fine riding the roller coaster and knowing the next great stretch is right around the corner.
“I guess it’s a snapshot somewhat of his career path,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “We know and certainly live with some swing and miss, but the ability to drive the ball through the ballpark to all fields is present every time he steps into the batter’s box. Even though we fought back after digging ourselves a hole early, we give it back, we keep coming and that’s kind of the characteristic of this team.
“With players that tend to be streaky or those who have some maintenance to their swing, you have to ride it. We’ve picked our spots where we felt like there might be a different matchup that might be to our advantage with a start of either [Mike] Carp or [Daniel] Nava at first base. But, in general, he’s the type of player you’re going to live and die with, that type of approach.”
On Sunday, after five hours of baseball in front of the largest crowd at Fenway Park this season, the Red Sox had lived. And Mike Napoli was feeling just fine.