John Farrell has noted Mike Napoli’s streakiness at various points this season. And every time, the message has been the same.
Just keep swinging.
Napoli, whose seventh-inning home run off Justin Verlander was the difference in Game 3 of the ALCS, put Boston on the scoreboard in Game 5 with a monster home run off Anibal Sanchez in the second inning. The slugger finished Thursday’s contest with three hits as the Red Sox earned a 4-3 victory to move within one win of the World Series.
“He obviously picked us up in big situations throughout the season, and tonight was another one of those situations, picking us up 1-0 right there off a pretty good pitcher,” said Jon Lester, who pitched 5 1/3 innings in Game 5. “It’s a big yard, and to go [there] in that park — he made this yard look small with that swing.”
The Red Sox went on to build a 3-0 lead in the second inning following Napoli’s big blast. Boston then extended its lead to 4-0 in the third inning when Napoli scored on a wild pitch. That was enough to send the Red Sox down a winning path, while also reinforcing the notion that Napoli picked the right time to break out.
“It’s big, man, because everybody just focuses on me,” David Ortiz told reporters in Detroit. “Having some other guys stepping up and doing their thing [takes] a little bit of pressure off of me.”
Napoli was undoubtedly the catalyst in Game 5. His second-inning moon shot kicked off the scoring, and his one-out ground-rule double in the third inning opened the door for him to score what turned out to be the winning run on Sanchez’s wild pitch. It was another series-altering performance from a veteran who has shown an ability to produce on the big stage in the past.
The Red Sox signed Napoli in the offseason for various reasons, one of which was his track record of producing in the second half and into October. Napoli hit .328 (19-for-58) with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 17 playoff games during the Rangers’ 2011 run to the World Series. Now, his heroics have the Red Sox knocking on the door of the Fall Classic.
“We’ve talked about some streakiness. He’s in one of those good streaks right now,” Farrell said. “Like I’ve said, he has the ability to carry us.”
Napoli falls into slumps from time to time, and it took him a bit to get things going this October. Napoli went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in Game 1 of the ALCS — which prompted Farrell to insert Mike Carp into the starting lineup for Game 2 — and then struck out in his first two at-bats of Game 3. At that point, Napoli was 0-for-6 with six strikeouts in the ALCS and 2-for-19 with 10 strikeouts overall in the postseason.
But Napoli just kept swinging.
“I had a little rough start, but my swing felt good, and I’m always confident when I’m in the box,” Napoli said after Thursday’s game.
Napoli busted out of his brief October swoon by sending a Verlander fastball over the left field fence at Comerica Park. The first baseman is 6-for-10 with two homers, two doubles and four runs scored since the pivotal Game 3 dinger and shows no signs of slowing down as the series shifts back to Boston.
“We can’t ask Mike Napoli to try to put a ball in play,” Farrell said before Game 5 when discussing the Red Sox’ high strikeout total. “If we do that with two strikes, we might still be playing Game 3 rather than him hitting the ball out of the ballpark.”
Napoli is never one to get cheated on a swing. And as a result, the ALCS momentum has swung in the Red Sox’ favor once again.