Commentary

Mike Napoli makes Red Sox pay

Updated: August 23, 2011, 9:01 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was almost a year ago when the Boston Red Sox claimed catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli off waivers.

Napoli never wore a Red Sox uniform, and on Monday night, he helped the Texas Rangers beat Boston with a three-run homer in a 4-0 victory at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

[+] EnlargeErik Bedard
AP Photo/LM OteroErik Bedard wipes his brow after giving up a three-run homer to Mike Napoli in the sixth inning, his only significant mistake of the game.

On Aug. 29, 2010, the Red Sox claimed Napoli off waivers from his former club, the Los Angeles Angels, but Boston was unable to complete a deal. The waiver claim might have had more to do with the Sox attempting to block another team from getting Napoli than their interest in acquiring his services.

"Just the way my situation was going with playing time [with the Angels], in my mind I thought it would be a change of scenery and get a chance to maybe play every day somewhere," Napoli said after Monday's victory. "I knew about it. I knew what happened. It just didn't work out."

But there likely was some level of interest by Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. Napoli is a catcher who can produce offensively, and it was no secret that Boston was in search of such a weapon last summer because, at the time, there was uncertainty with Jarrod Saltalamacchia (injured after being acquired at the trade deadline), along with the cloudy future of Jason Varitek.

"I knew they were a good team and they could win, so I was excited if something happened I'd be going to a place that was winning games," Napoli said.

He eventually did land in a place that is winning games.

Napoli, 29, was dealt, along with Juan Rivera, during the offseason by the Angels to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Vernon Wells and cash considerations. Napoli called himself a Blue Jay for exactly four days before he was traded to the Rangers for pitcher Frank Francisco and cash.

Napoli has been somewhat reborn in Texas and is producing in a big way for the Rangers. His three-run homer off Red Sox starter Erik Bedard on Monday was his 21st of the season, which is the second-highest total of his career (he belted 26 with the Angels in 2010).

"[Napoli] hit a good pitch that was up and in," Saltalamacchia said. "Nap did a great job of hitting that pitch, and it's not an easy pitch to hit. He did a good job of hitting it, but other than that, [Bedard] pitched great."

Napoli has 53 RBIs this season and is in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak. He's divided time among catching, playing first and serving as DH.

Meanwhile, the combination of Saltalamacchia and Varitek has been solid both offensively and defensively for the Red Sox.

Saltalamacchia is hitting .244 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 80 games, while the veteran Varitek is hitting .228 with eight homers and 26 RBIs in 56 games.

"I think we like the way we've done it," Terry Francona said of the catching situation. "Nobody's overwhelmed, and they're both not on fumes, as you can see a lot of catchers are this time [of the season]. We're getting pretty good production, and defensively both have been pretty good, so we like the way we're doing it."

Napoli has always played well against Boston, which might be another reason Epstein claimed him a year ago. In 27 career games against the Red Sox, Napoli is hitting .278 with five doubles, nine homers and 17 RBIs to go with six walks and 27 strikeouts.

There's a strong possibility the Red Sox and Rangers could face each other in the postseason, and if that happens, Napoli figures to be trouble for Boston.

Napoli wasn't the only Ranger to contribute in Monday's win.

Texas starter C.J. Wilson tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings and has gone 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his past four starts. The left-hander seems to get fired up when pitching against the Red Sox. Since the start of the 2010 season, Wilson is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA in five starts. Even if the Sox weren't missing Jacoby Ellsbury (back), David Ortiz (heel) and Kevin Youkilis (back), it might not have made a difference.

"His stuff is just filthy," Francona said. "When we've had our full lineup, he's gone through us, so we can't make an excuse. He's got a lot of good pitches and he went right through us. We had a couple of chances, but then he made really good pitches.

"He started throwing strikes with all his pitches. He was power, cut, change; you name it, he threw it."

Wilson dominated on the mound, and Napoli did the damage at the plate.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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