Mike Napoli Briefly Quiets Critics With Clutch Homer, ‘Encouraging’ Effort in Loss to Blue Jays

mike napoli“Taste of De-feet” seems like an appropriate headline for Wednesday’s game in Toronto.

The Red Sox fell to the Blue Jays 4-3 in 10 innings, but it wasn’t before Mike Napoli provided some improbable ninth-inning heroics. Napoli, who is mired in the worst slump of his career, lifted a two-run, two-out homer over the right field fence to tie the game 3-3 in the ninth. In the process, he temporarily quieted his critics in a classic case of open mouth, insert foot.

Napoli has taken a lot of heat recently, and justifiably so. He entered Wednesday’s game on the heels of a three-game stretch in which he went 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts. He was hitting .135 — including .042 (1-for-24) with runners on base — in August, and he hasn’t look comfortable at the plate in some time. It all added up to John Farrell dropping Napoli to seventh in the order.

Napoli’s frustrating stretch initially lingered into Wednesday’s game. He broke his bat while grounding out in his first at-bat, got robbed of a single on a line drive up the middle in his second at-bat and flied out to right field in his third at-bat. Everything changed in his fourth at-bat, when Brett Cecil caught too much of the plate with a pitch on the outside corner. Napoli drilled a towering fly ball to right field that landed in the first few rows of seats.

The dramatic home run ultimately went for naught. The Red Sox couldn’t cash in with the bases loaded in the ninth, failed to score despite two men reaching in the 10th — which Napoli ended with a groundout — and eventually watched as the Blue Jays walked off with a victory. But Napoli’s home run gives at least a glimmer of hope that he might turn things around after a deplorable stretch that has had some — myself included — calling for a decrease in the slugger’s playing time if things stay on the current path.

“Encouraging,” Farrell said of Napoli’s effort Wednesday. “Certainly what he’s been going through of late to come up in a key spot to tie it — down to the last out. As we said before the game, he’s streaky. We know it. We have to ride it with him, and he came up big in the moment.”

The Red Sox brought in Napoli in the offseason with the understanding that he’s a streaky hitter. How else could you explain his 2011 season, when he hit .232 in 52 first-half games before hitting .383 with a .466 on-base percentage in 61 games after the All-Star break? The expectation, however, was that he’d produce good power numbers, especially at Fenway Park, which is seemingly tailor-made for his uppercut swing.

Napoli has shown flashes of that power, particularly in April, when he drove in 27 runs and helped carry an offense that was missing its most dangerous slugger in David Ortiz. For the most part, though, inconsistency has ruled the day, and there hasn’t been much to suggest that things are going to turn around.

Until Wednesday.

One game — never mind one hit — hardly spells the end of a slump, especially one as bad as Napoli’s. But in a time when you’re grasping for positives, a clutch home run certainly means a few less hairs yanked out of your head — or beard, in Napoli’s case.

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