Mike Napoli flying high

Updated: October 24, 2011, 12:19 PM ET
By Buster Olney

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As recently as this past spring, Mike Napoli thought of himself as someone who struggled against high fastballs. Hitters like to look for pitches up in the strike zone because the chances for doing damage are greater, he explained, but in his time with the Los Angeles Angels, he often had tried and failed to get to those pitches, swinging underneath them or fouling them back instead of driving them. "I used to swing at a lot of high fastballs, and sometimes, I'd run into one," Napoli said. "But I wasn't very good."

But as with so much about Napoli's play in his brief time with the Texas Rangers, something changed. He managed to shorten his swing -- to reduce the arc of the bat from the moment he begins to move his hands to the moment of contact -- and he started getting to those high fastballs. Only Oakland's Josh Willingham hit more home runs on high pitches (15) than Napoli (14) during the regular season, and Napoli hit 12 high fastballs for home runs, the most in the majors.

Napoli anticipated a fastball as he prepared to take his at-bat in the sixth inning. The Rangers had a couple of guys on base, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called on Mitchell Boggs, a sinkerballer with a penchant for getting ground balls. Napoli didn't need his experience as a catcher to understand what La Russa and the Cardinals were looking for. Boggs, a right-hander, would look to generate a double-play grounder, Napoli figured, and probably would try to jam the hitter right away.

Napoli made up his mind that he would look for a fastball up, to do some damage. If Boggs threw his sinker down and in, well, Napoli would take that pitch. But if Boggs elevated his fastball, Napoli intended to attack.