BOSTON – Don’t blame Mike Napoli if he has a chip on shoulder and a score to settle with the Cardinals.
Napoli likely would have been the World Series MVP in 2011 with the Rangers before the Cardinals came back from 3-2 deficit to win the Series.
In seven games against the Cardinals in 2011, Napoli hit .350 with 2 home runs, 10 RBI, a .464 on-base percentage, and .700 slugging percentage, for a whopping 1.164 OPS.
Napoli, though, says revenge isn't on his mind.
“No, not really,” he said after the Red Sox' 8-1 win in Game 1 over the Cardinals at Fenway Park Wednesday night. “The main thing was trying to get back [to the World Series]. But I think it's nice being able to play against them. They took a world championship away from me. But it doesn't have anything to do with anything; [I'm] just trying to win a World Series.”
Napoli picked up against the Cardinals right where he left off in 2011, with a first-inning, three-run double,. It was the only hit Napoli had in four at-bats in the game, but it provided all the runs the Sox would need on their way to a thumping of St. Louis.
Jon Lester was the beneficiary of Napoli’s offense.
“It's been all season,” Lester said. “He's done a great job. The thing that has impressed me the most about him is the amount of pitches he sees. Seems like every time he's up there it's 3‑2, 2‑2. I think it gives him the advantage over the pitcher, just seeing so many pitches. He's come up big, like you said, all year for us, and especially here lately against some really good pitchers. To have him go get a double in the first inning . . . That was just a big momentum change for us right there.”
Napoli, playing in his eighth World Series game, is now batting .333, going 8-for-24 with 2 doubles, 2 home runs and 13 RBI in the Fall Classic. He has hit safely in seven of eight career World Series games, and in six consecutive World Series games, matching Derek Jeter for the longest current streak among active players.
There’s no big secret to his success, he insists.
“I think it's just the way it worked out,” Napoli said. “I love this stage. It's in the spotlight. I really enjoy this time of year, I guess. But it's just going out there and getting the job done.”
Although Napoli is batting just .243 this postseason, going 9-for-37, five of his hits have been for extra bases (three doubles and two home runs, with six RBI). Since Game 1 of the ALCS against the Tigers, though, he is batting .292, going 7-for-24, with five RBI. His solo home run in Game 3 of the ALCS off Justin Verlander was the only run of the game.
“From the ALCS on, his extra‑base power is clear,” said manager John Farrell. “I think of the nine hits he's got, [five] have come of the extra-base variety. He got on top of a fastball in that situation, and he's come up big for us. And particularly in Game 3 in Detroit, and every game since he's been right in the middle of a lot of our multi‑run innings. We talked about it even coming out of the Tampa series.
“So we ride the peaks and valleys with him. He's got some streakiness to his career path, and when he's in the good side of those streaks, he's had the ability to carry us, and he's doing that right now.”
Napoli has always been a streaky hitter, and yes, strikeouts are always going to be a part of his game. He didn’t have any in Game 1 against the Cards, be he has 15 in 37 at-bats this postseason. For now, though, he’s feeling very comfortable at the plate.
“Just grind through every at‑bat,” he said. “I'm able to forget about an at‑bat to my next at‑bat. You can't dwell when you get out; just go up there and have a plan and try to execute as best as possible. I just go up there, and I'm confident every time I go up there, even if I struck out the last time. I always feel like I'm going to get a hit.
“I think we're a confident group, no matter what. But I think you've got to take advantage of the opportunities you get in a game. We've been able to do that all playoffs. And that's what it's about. A lot of things went right for us, but we've got to take advantage of those opportunities and we did.”
And the Sox will ride that as long as they can.