Patience pays off as Napoli goes yard off Verlander

Patience pays off as Napoli goes yard off Verlander
October 15, 2013, 11:45 pm
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DETROIT -- For much of the regular season, John Farrell had to ride out the highs and lows of first baseman Mike Napoli at the plate. For days at a time, and sometimes longer, there'd be little more than strikeouts and at-bats in which the slugger looked hopelessly overmatched.
      
But Farrell remained steadfast, knowing that the payoff would eventually be forthcoming. And it would: Napoli delivered often enough that he finished second on the team in homers and RBI, enough production to off-set the 0-for-4 and a club record number of strikeouts.
      
In the post-season, such patience can be difficult, since every game is magnified and the stakes are that much higher. Wait too long and the season could be over.
      
Still, John Farrell remained patient. After trying Mike Carp at first -- with little to show for it -- in Game 2, Farrell returned to Napoli for Game 3 and was paid off handsomely.
      
In the seventh inning of a scoreless pitcher's duel, Napoli hit an elevated fastball from Justin Verlander out to left-center for what turned out to be the lone run of the game, 1-0.
      
Faith will be rewarded.
      
At that point, it didn't matter that Napoli had been 2-for-17 in the post-season with 10 strikeouts or that he didn't have a hit in the ALCS. And it didn't seem to matter than the same guy who led his team in striekouts was going up against the pitcher who'd led the league in strikeouts in two of the last three -- and three of the last five -- seasons.
      
As Game 3 proved, it only takes one swing.
      
"He's put up some big numbers for us,'' said Farrell of Napoli, "and along with that comes some strikeouts. Those have been present during the series and all season long. But when he gets into that stretch run, where he's on the right side streakiness, he can carry us and he has carried us, whether it's September or back in April for the first five or six weeks of the season.
      
"We can't turn away from a guy that's got that on his resume or his track record just because he's in a little bit of a downturn."
      
Napoli himself, despite being hitless, said he hadn't felt lost at the plate before the homer.
      
"I've been feeling comfortable," he said. "I'm not searching for anything. Going into that at-bat, (Verlander) got my twice early in the game. He threw me four sliders, which he's never done to me before. But I just keep on going at it. I was able to get it to 3-and-2 and got a pitch I could handle."
      
That Napoli ran the count full was not insignificant. Napoli was among the league leaders in pitches seen during the season and even when he strikes out, he managed to run up pitch counts.
      
"I feel like the more pitches I see," he said, "the better for me, the more I get involved into that at-bat, the more I can see stuff."
      
For Napoli, there was a certain symmetry to the homer. His first homer in the big leagues came on May 4, 2006, in his first at-bat during his major league debut.
      
It just so happened that that homer came at Comerica Park, against Justin Verlander, and that one, too, was hit out to left-center.
      
"Obviously, I'll never forget that," said Napoli. "Verlander's definitely grown, I've definitely grown. You just have to make adjustments."
      
"I was here for that first homer, too," chimed in John Lackey, Tuesday's winning pitcher and a teammate of Napoli with the Angels. "It was pretty cool. I remember that, for sure. He got called up and hit one off Verlander on a curveball. And I said, 'We need that dude -- keep him around here.'"
      
Needed then, indispensable in Game 3.
      
John Farrell thought so, too. For all the strikeouts and the hitless at-bats, the manager knew how important Napoli could be. In a scoreless game in the ALCS, the Red Sox needed that dude, too.