Napoli's up-and-down night ends with walk-off

Napoli's up-and-down night ends with walk-off
July 22, 2013, 2:45 am
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BOSTON -- Mike Napoli swung to end the game. Of course he did.

When he was at bat with a full count and two outs in the bottom of the eleventh inning against Yankees reliever Adam Warren and the game tied, 7-7, his team had already been playing for almost five hours.

Then, at 12:53 a.m. on Monday, Napoli took Warren's 94 mile-per-hour, up-and-away fastball to straightaway centerfield, two rows into the bleachers and the Red Sox won, 8-7.

Was he trying to hit a home run? Of course he was.

"Two outs and nobody on, yeah," he said. "At least try to hit a double and get into scoring position or something."

A singles hitter Napoli is not. Leave that to the smaller guys with the more disciplined swings.

Napoli's hack is power uncorked. The tattoos on his forearms contort as he whips his bat through the strike zone. His shirt -- its top few buttons always unbuttoned, presumably to give his barrel chest more room to work -- twists and flaps about in the chaos.

After cranking his second-career walk-off home run -- Boston's ninth walk-off win of the season, their fourth walk-off homer -- Napoli rounded first and smiled through his Grizzly Adams beard. He knew he had just hit one a very long way and stirred his team into a frenzy.

"It's beautiful," Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of Napoli's swing. "Especially late in a game like that makes it even better. He's so powerful, he's so strong, you really don't want to make any mistakes to him."

The early-morning blast was Napoli's second of the game. In the fourth inning, CC Sabathia intended to tie him up with a fastball up and in. Instead, Napoli turned on it and hit it over the Sports Authority sign perched above the Green Monster to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.  
   
But it was an up-and-down night for Napoli, as he rode the wave of his all-or-nothing swing. He struck out three times, and in the eighth inning with the bases loaded he grounded into a 6-4-3 double play that seemed to take the wind out of his team's collective gut. Shane Victorino, who had been on third, tossed his helmet almost all the way into the Red Sox dugout. Napoli stood alone in shallow right field, knowing he missed an opportunity.

"I had a chance in the eighth to put a run across, hit a fly ball, a sac fly or something," Napoli said. "Hit into a double play. [But] that's what's great about this game. You always get another chance. I was glad I got the opportunity to get up there and make up for it."

John Farrell called Napoli's night a "snapshot of his career." He's used to the roller coaster ride.

In his first 27 games with the Red Sox this season, he hit six home runs with 31 RBI. In his next 60, he hit five homers with 27 RBI. Before the finale with the Yankees, Napoli had only had two home runs since June 1.

But in July he's started to come on again. His OPS for the month was .811 going into Sunday.

Though he's still liable to strike out more than once in any given game -- he's already been rung up 127 times this season -- he feels as though he's getting into a rhythm.

"I'm starting to feel better," he said. "There's times I get deep into counts and I swing at pitches I really wish I didn't. But I'm seeing the ball better. I have my good ABs and bad ABs in the game, but I'm just trying to go out there and have a tough AB every time."

Is he trying to hit a home run every time? No, probably not. But he did early Monday morning, and for the Red Sox, it was beautiful.