Mike Napoli didn’t skip a beat Sunday.
On a day when Napoli was activated off the 15-day disabled list after battling a sprained finger, the first baseman left his fingerprints all over the Boston Red Sox’s dramatic 5-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Napoli, playing for the first time since May 23, reached base four times in his return to the Red Sox’s lineup. He collected three hits, including a solo home run in the sixth inning, and saw 21 pitches while hitting out of the No. 5 spot behind David Ortiz.
“Mike Napoli extends the lineup — just his presence,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters in Detroit after the game. “We were able to run the pitch count up on (Tigers starter Anibal) Sanchez to get into the bullpen. A lot has to do with the quality at-bats up and down the lineup, but Mike Napoli’s presence is certainly felt here tonight.”
Napoli filled up the box score in his first game back, which is encouraging considering he hit just .186 (11-for-59) in 18 May games before landing on the DL. But Napoli’s return also goes beyond the box score, as his presence should benefit Ortiz, who hit just .200 (9-for-45) with three extra-base hits in the slugger’s absence.
Ortiz propelled the Red Sox to victory Sunday by launching a go-ahead, three-run homer off Tigers reliever Joba Chamberlain with Boston trailing 3-2 in the ninth inning. The heroics might have been made possible — or at least more likely — because of Napoli.
“(Ortiz) is the guy you definitely want up in that spot,” Red Sox starter John Lackey said. “But the thing that might be getting lost is that the guy standing on deck got him a pitch to hit.”
“They wouldn’t have thrown one near the strike zone if that dude wasn’t standing on deck,” Lackey added.
Ortiz should see more pitches to hit with Napoli back in the lineup. The combination of Jonny Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore and Mike Carp didn’t have much to offer hitting behind Boston’s most potent offensive threat, and teams thus were able to pitch around Big Papi with great success.
The Red Sox’s win over the Tigers on Sunday — which snapped a five-game losing streak — could send Boston back down a winning path. If so, it’ll likely be the result of some offensive stability that Boston simply doesn’t have when Napoli is sidelined.