BOSTON – There's a reason Mike Napoli was so appealing to the Red Sox.
After last season, the Sox made Napoli -- a career .259 hitter who entered this season with a .306 average, 7 home runs, 17 RBI, a .397 on-base percentage, and .710 slugging percentage in 19 career games at Fenway Park -- one of their prime free-agent targets. His right-handed power and natural pull swing were made for Boston, and, after an initial deal was scuttled by a medical issue with his hip, the sides reached a one-year agreement that dropped Napoli into the middle of the Red Sox batting order.
And the Sox have gotten their payoff.
Napoli blasted a grand-slam home run into the Monster Seats in left-center in the fifth inning Monday night, the big blow in the Red Sox' 9-6 win over the A's. It was part of a 2-for-4, 5-RBI night that lifted his average at Fenway this year to .305 (11-for-36) with 5 doubles, 2 home runs, 12 RBI, 6 runs scored and a .611 slugging percentage. Overall he's hitting .278 and leads the American League in RBI with 25.
"That's what we were hoping he'd be able to do," said manager John Farrell.
“I love hitting here," Napoli said. "You got the wall right there and you can get away with some stuff. You don’t necessarily have to hit it so good. Sometimes you hit a pop fly that would be an out in another park, but it goes off the wall. So it’s definitely fun hitting here and I enjoy it.”
Especially enjoyable was Monday night's grand slam, the fourth of his career and his first since July 8, 2011, against the A’s while with the Rangers.
“It was an exciting moment,” Napoli said. “I was down, 0-1. I was just trying to drive something, get a sac fly, just put a ball in the air out there. And I just got a pitch to drive and I hit a grand slam.”
It was made even more satisfying by the fact that in his previous at-bat, he'd gotten a scare when he was hit on the inside of his right bicep by a fastball from A’s starter A.J. Griffin.
“I never got hit there before and my arm went numb," Napoli said. "So I was kind of freaking out a little bit but I got the feeling back. It’s sore, but I was able to keep going.”
In the past two days, including Sunday’s doubleheader against the Royals, Napoli has gone 5-for-12 with two doubles, two home runs, a walk, a strikeout, three runs scored and eight RBI. It's part of a hitting surge that Farrell has noticed.
“The last 10 days his swing has been so compact," the manager said.
“[Just trying] to get a job done,” said Napoli. “You try to stay within yourself and don’t waste an at-bat. You get guys in scoring position, just trying to use the gaps and drive something. So things have been going good and I’m going to keep working in the cage, trying to stay square and keep going.”
His 25 RBI match the most by a Sox batter in the team’s first 19 games of a season since 1942. No other Sox batter has had 25 RBI and 14 extra-base hits in that span. The 25 RBI are the most by a Sox batter in April since Manny Ramirez had 31 in 2005, and the most in any month since Adrian Gonzalez had 25 in June 2011.
And the month still has a week to go.
“It’s nice to have people on base,” he said. “The guys at the top of the order are getting on, getting me opportunities. I had probably five or six times with the bases loaded. So it’s always nice, especially with less than two outs. So you can try to drive something in the air somewhere, try to get a sac fly, and you hit something in the gap, it’s a bonus.”
Napoli has reached base safely in his last 14 games; over that span he's hitting .339 (19-for-56) with nine doubles, a triple, three home runs, 22 RBI, and four walks. It is his third-longest career on-base streak, following two 16-game stretches, one in 2007, another in 2011.
“I feel good right now,” he said. “I’m just going in there, seeing the ball, and hitting it. Just trying to stay square and drive it somewhere. But it’s nice hitting behind [David Ortiz]. You get to watch his at-bat and see what he does, see how the pitcher attacks him. But I’m just going in there, seeing the ball, and hitting the ball.”