BOSTON — The Red Sox will take the bad with the good, especially when the good wins them a ballgame.
Mike Napoli was up and down Sunday in a performance that was truly a microcosm of his season — if not his entire career. He hit two home runs, struck out three times and grounded into a big double play. Fortunately for Boston, Napoli saved his best for last, as he crushed a walk-off blast in the 11th inning to give the Red Sox an 8-7 victory over the Yankees.
“That’s what’s great about this game,” Napoli said. “You always get another chance, and I was glad I got the opportunity to go up there and make up for it.”
The Red Sox fell behind early Sunday because of some sloppy play. Two errors allowed the Yankees to score two runs in the first inning, and New York extended its lead to 3-0 when Robinson Cano singled in a run in the second inning. Napoli gave Boston its first lead of the night in the third inning when he drilled a three-run homer over everything in left field.
The Red Sox extended their lead over the next two innings, with Jonny Gomes’ solo blast in the fifth making it 7-3. But the Yankees, to their credit, climbed back into the game, and they eventually tied the contest with two runs in the seventh inning.
The score was still tied at seven apiece when Napoli dug in with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning. All Napoli had to do was drive a ball deep enough to the outfield, and the Red Sox would have carried a lead into the ninth inning. Instead, Napoli grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, and the game eventually headed for extra frames.
“With players that tend to be streaky or those who have some maintenance to their swing, you have to ride it,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “We’ve picked our spots where we felt like there might be a different matchup that might be to our advantage — with a start of either [Mike] Carp or [Daniel] Nava at first base — but in general, yeah, [Napoli] is the type of player you’re gonna live and die with that type of approach.”
Napoli eventually atoned for his inability to come through in the eighth inning by driving a 3-2 pitch from Adam Warren into the center field bleachers in the 11th. Napoli’s second home run of the game gave the Red Sox their major league-leading ninth walk-off win of the season, and their first walk-off homer against the Yankees since Kevin Youkilis went yard in the 11th inning on April 24, 2009.
“It’s a great feeling. You see us out there going crazy and ripping each other’s jerseys off,” Napoli said. “It’s fun, it’s a fun thing to do and it’s about winning. We win a ballgame, especially a tough game like that, up and down, it’s just a great feeling.”
The jubilation didn’t come before some frustration, and that’s to be expected from Napoli, whose season has been a roller coaster. Napoli ranks second on the Red Sox in home runs and RBIs, but he’s also on pace to break Mark Bellhorn’s Red Sox single-season strikeout record.
“Yeah, I guess that’s a snapshot of somewhat his career path,” Farrell said. “We know and certainly live with some swing and miss, but the ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark to all fields is present every time he steps into the batter’s box. We fought back after digging ourselves a hole early, we give it back, we keep coming and that’s kind of the characteristic of this team.”
Napoli provided “both sides of the coin” — to steal a phrase from Farrell — in Sunday’s rubber match. The two home runs are certainly encouraging, though, as the slugger now has four dingers over his last 11 games after going his previous 22 contests without a single home run. Napoli couldn’t point to any major adjustments, aside from just being ready to hit and not dwelling on the past when things don’t go his way.
“I’m starting to feel better,” Napoli said. “There’s times when I get deep into counts and swing at pitches I really wish I didn’t, but I’m seeing the ball a little better. I have my good AB’s and bad AB’s during a game, but I’m just trying to go out there and give a good AB every time.”
Napoli provided both good at-bats and bad at-bats again Sunday — and into Monday, if you want to get technical. This time around, the good outweighed the bad, and the Red Sox have a big win to show for it.