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Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Napoli puts exclamation point on surge

By Mark Polishuk, Special to ESPNBoston.com



TORONTO -- As only the 17th player to smash a home run into the Rogers Centre's upper deck, one would have thought Mike Napoli would have trouble containing his excitement in the aftermath of his epic long ball.

"I was just trying to get a hit. ... It doesn't really matter if it goes far or into the first row for me," Napoli said. "I guess it's pretty cool."

Well, perhaps Napoli could have been a little more fired up in the wake of his game-winning shot. While his homer was the most memorable blow, he was hardly the only one to deliver an important hit during a seven-run outburst in the 11th inning of the Boston Red Sox's 11-7 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday.

The Red Sox used a well-rounded offensive attack to overwhelm Toronto in the inning. Mookie Betts led off with a single and then beat out a close play at second base on a sacrifice bunt; Betts originally was called out but the decision was reversed on replay. After Brock Holt reached on an error from Jays pitcher Casey Janssen, Dustin Pedroia broke the 4-4 tie with a hard ground ball single up the middle.

"I'm just trying to stay in the middle of the field and drive the ball, trying to hit it hard so I get it by him," Pedroia said. "I'm just trying to find a pitch to drive it into the middle of the ballpark and get the runners [in]."

Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli unloads for his long three-run homer that highlighted a seven-run 11th.
While Napoli was blasť about his homer, he was far more excited about how the Red Sox's lineup was clicking before he even came to the plate.

"We're playing some fundamental baseball right there," Napoli said. "Mookie hustling, getting the bunt down to get guys in scoring position. Pedey up there with the bases loaded and the infield in, you feel good about that situation. It's all about the team working together to score runs and getting that timely hit when you need it."

Because the Jays scored three times in the bottom of the 11th, Pedroia's hit wouldn't have been enough on its own for the Sox to win. But Napoli was there for some insurance.

The designated hitter sat on an 0-2 fastball from Sergio Santos and sent the pitch far above the left-field wall to a place where few hitters have reached since the stadium opened in 1989. Manny Ramirez was the only other Red Sox player to hit an upper-deck homer at the Rogers Centre, mashing a 491-foot blast on June 3, 2001.

In addition to Napoli's moon shot, Allen Craig followed two batters later with another home run, a two-run blast to right-center field. Given that the Jays had erased two Boston leads earlier in the game and scored three times in the bottom of the 11th, it was clear that the Sox needed all the offense they could get to finally put the game away.

"You get into extra frames on the road and given where our bullpen is, the ability to score multiple runs is key for us to give us some breathing room," manager John Farrell said.

The seven runs in an inning matched Boston's season high, and it was as if the Red Sox were trying to erase a game's worth (or maybe a season's worth) of failure in clutch situations in a single frame. Despite the 11 runs, the Sox stranded nine runners in the game and were only 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position entering the 11th inning.

"That's basically our offense this year, not coming up with that big hit with runners in scoring position," Napoli said. "It's tough. You've got to get those key two-out hits. It's been a rough year with that, and we've got to get better with it."

While this season is a lost cause for the Red Sox, the composition of the 11th-inning rally bodes well for 2015. Youngsters Betts, Christian Vazquez and Brock Holt loaded the bases, roster mainstays Pedroia and Napoli drove them all in, and then new addition Craig added the finishing touch.

Boston's ability to regain its offensive touch could be the key factor in a turnaround next season. If the Red Sox had a few more wins this year, perhaps Napoli would be more energetic about a once-in-a-lifetime home run.

"It feels nice to mess around with your teammates and everyone's just going crazy in the dugout but I don't know, it's just a homer," Napoli said.