BOSTON — Ask Mike Napoli, and he’ll tell you it was business as usual. Think about it logically, and it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox first baseman’s mind didn’t wander, if only for a minute.
Napoli’s name was penciled into the Red Sox’s starting lineup Friday despite constant trade rumors leading up to the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline. As the deadline passed at 4 p.m. ET, his name remained in the lineup, which was a good thing for Boston. The slugger launched a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning of the Red Sox’s 7-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park.
“I wasn’t worried about it,” Napoli said of the trade speculation leading up to Friday’s deadline. “Like I said before, I just came to the park to make myself better. It’s something I can’t control. If it happened, it happened. But I wanted to be a Red Sox. I signed here. I love my teammates and I definitely have fun playing with them on the field.”
David Ortiz set the stage for Napoli’s heroics by working an 11-pitch walk against left-hander Jake McGee with two outs in the seventh and the Red Sox trailing 5-4. It was a tremendous at-bat by Ortiz, who hit a line drive into the left field corner that landed just foul moments before outlasting McGee for a key free pass. It also was another indication the 39-year-old is beginning to feel more comfortable at the plate, particularly against lefties.
Napoli, who walked twice to that point, dug in representing the go-ahead run. He fell behind 0-2, battled back to even the count and then lifted a 96-mph two-seamer located about neck-high over the Green Monster to give Boston a 6-5 lead. It barely cleared the left field wall.
“Playing at Fenway to get that homer,” Napoli said with a smile, all but acknowledging it probably would have been a flyout in almost any other ballpark.
Napoli’s season has been disappointing, but he’s been swinging the bat better of late. It could increase his trade value if the Red Sox explore dealing him in August, when he’ll need to pass through waivers, but Napoli isn’t focused on whether he’ll finish his contract with Boston. In fact, Napoli isn’t throwing in the towel on the Red Sox’s season, as crazy as it sounds.
“We’re not giving up yet,” Napoli said. “We’re going to go out there and play hard every day. This is our job. We get paid to come out there and perform, and we’re going to come out here and play the game the right way and try to win every day.”
There’s no guarantee Napoli will be around when the dust finally settles on the Red Sox’s 2015 season, just as there was no guarantee he’d suit up for Boston’s series opener against Tampa Bay. But Napoli’s work ethic, passion and positivity haven’t changed one bit amid the uncertainty.
So in that sense, Friday was business as usual.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images