BOSTON (CBS) — Throughout the offseason, from the time the Red Sox were reported to be in pursuit of Mike Napoli all the way through spring training, there was one readily available set of statistics that made its way into just about every bit of analysis of the acquisition. Those stats said something simple: Napoli was a monster at Fenway Park.
As a visitor at Fenway, Napoli owned a .306 batting average in 19 career games, when he clubbed seven homers, drove in 17 runs and posted a 1.107 OPS. Time and time again, he had crushed the spirits of the Red Sox and their fans. So it made sense for the Sox to want him on their side, and this year, he’s come as advertised.
His latest clutch hit came Sunday night — well, early Monday morning — in a game that seemed destined to never end. A somewhat sloppy game between the Sox and Yankees could not be decided in nine innings, and the game pressed on into the early hours of the morning with an impressive number of fans still in their seats at Fenway. Adam Warren was on the mound for New York, and after falling behind in the count 2-0, he worked it full. Though Napoli had blasted a moon shot over the Green Monster off CC Sabathia in the third inning, the rest of his night hadn’t been so great. He struck out three times, and in the eighth inning, with the bases loaded and one out in a tie game, Napoli grounded into a double play.
But this time, Napoli came through, sending the fans — who had endured the nearly five-hour affair — home happy. Warren left his 3-2 pitch up, and Napoli crushed it over the center-field wall to give the Red Sox an 8-7 victory and a series win over the Yankees.
“I had a chance in the eighth to put a run across, hit a fly ball, a sac fly or something, but I hit into a double play,” Napoli said in the clubhouse after the walk-off celebration. “That’s what’s great about this game. You always get another chance and I was glad I got the opportunity to go up there and make up for it.”
With the two long balls, Napoli ranks second on the team with 13 homers, and the four RBIs brought his total to 62, ranked second as well. He trails David Ortiz in both categories, and while Big Papi’s legacy of sending Fenway into a frenzy is well-established, Napoli is doing a fine job of it himself in his first year in Boston.
“He’s a dangerous bat. He’s a guy that I think everybody fears,” Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of Napoli. “He can do some damage at any point. He picked us up big early in the game and he picked us up big at the end.”
The homer was Napoli’s second walk-0ff hit this season, as his wall ball double on Patriots’ Day scored Dustin Pedroia from first base. Though his numbers have dipped since an unsustainably hot start to the season, the performance may be what Napoli needs to get back on track. He admitted himself over the weekend that he’s always been a “streaky” player, sometimes feeling great and other times — for unknown reasons — simply not feeling right.
But if there’s anything that may help change anyone’s confidence and comfort at the plate, hitting a walk-off home run at Fenway Park against the Yankees is a pretty solid way to do it.
“It’s a great feeling,” Napoli said. “You see us all out there going crazy and ripping each other’s jersey off. It’s fun. It’s a fun thing to do. It’s about winning. When you win a ball game, especially a tough game like that, up and down, it’s just a great feeling.”