BOSTON -- Amid his struggles from June to August, Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli reiterated several times that he’s a streaky hitter -- as low as his lows go, his highs will make up for them. Now, 14 days into September, the Red Sox are riding those highs toward the best record in all of baseball.
Facing New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia on Saturday afternoon, Napoli was once again at the center of a relentless offense, reaching base safely in all four of his plate appearances and scoring two runs in the Red Sox’s 5-1 win over New York. All five of the team’s runs were charged to Sabathia, bringing his ERA to 7.22 (23 earned runs in 28 2/3 innings) in five starts against Boston this season.
“CC’s a very good pitcher; he’s had a tremendous career,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “We’ve had some success against him here, particularly in Fenway, whether it’s the wall, whether it’s just confidence going against him.”
Confidence is something this Red Sox team hasn’t been short on recently, winning eight straight series for the first time since 1995 and claiming their league-leading 91st win of the season Saturday. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a cleanup hitter who’s batting .424 with 11 RBIs in nine September starts to get you to that point.
“Right now I’m recognizing pitches,” Napoli said. “I’ve been getting deep into counts all year. I just felt really good today, and we were able to [sit] on some pitches that usually you swing through.”
Recognizing that he needed to start his swing earlier in order to get his foot down on time in the batter’s box, Napoli was all over Sabathia on Saturday. The 31-year-old first baseman saw 13 pitches from Sabathia in three plate appearances, not swinging and missing once.
“In years past, he threw a lot harder,” Napoli said of the 33-year-old Sabathia. “It’s always tougher when he has his good changeup. Maybe it’s just one of [those] years.
“He’s a good pitcher. Been grinding at-bats away and been doing what we’ve been doing all year against everybody. Just trying to pass it on to the next guy and battle against him.”
Like it has been in many of the Red Sox starts against left-handers this season, the next guy behind Napoli was outfielder Jonny Gomes, who nearly duplicated what Napoli passed on to him in his four plate appearances. Gomes reached base all four times and went 2-for-2, scoring no runs but adding a double and an RBI.
Napoli cited the team’s patience in the middle of the order as the reason for its success against Sabathia on the afternoon.
"We’ve got a lot of guys that get deep into counts, and that’s the goal,” he said. “When everyone’s working together to do that, it works. We’ve been doing it all year and we don’t plan on stopping.”