Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Kevin Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Napoli stands in front of his locker, his now-trademark beard enveloping his chin and neck. Along with his barrel chest and big biceps, Napoli looks like he'd be more at home in a flannel shirt than a uniform jersey.
PRODUCER: First baseman Mike Napoli has played a huge role for the Red Sox in the ALCS. Napoli homered and scored two runs in Thursday’s Game 6, which the Sox won 4-3 to take a 3-2 series lead.
If not for his baseball skills, Napoli could pass for a soft-spoken, old-time lumberjack, ready to level the woods with his ax.
Instead, he holds a bat in his hands, and look at the damage his does.
"Disgusting," David Ortiz said.
In Ortiz lingo that is a compliment he paid Napoli on Thursday night, as in "did you see how far Napoli hit that home run?"
Napoli's home run in Detroit sailed high over the center field wall, estimated to travel 460 feet.
The distance did not impress Napoli.
"It really doesn't matter to me," Napoli said. "It can go in the first row for all I care, you know.
"I was in a hitter's count. I was looking for a fastball. And I got a pitch I could handle."
The process matters more to Napoli, 31, an intense student of the game who studies every pitcher during every at-bat.
What Red Sox manager John Farrell appreciated was the timing of Napoli's homer. The Red Sox were facing Anibal Sanchez who had no-hit Boston for six innings the last time he faced the Red Sox.
Plus, Boston had not scored in the first five innings of any game during this American League Championship Series, against the vaunted Tigers rotation.
Napoli gave Boston a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
"I don't know if it relaxed us or it gave us an injection of life," Farrell said.
"Following the home run he hit the other day (the game-winner in Tuesday's Game 3) ... He is in one of those good streaks right now.
"He has the ability to carry us."
Anyone want to complain about the strikeouts now?
Napoli whiffs a lot. He set a Red Sox record with 187 Ks this year. Napoli often looks as if he has no clue in the batter's box. But it is quite the opposite. Napoli is seeing pitches and trying to figure it out.
"I get into the game and see what's going on," Napoli said. "I have a scouting report (on the pitchers) but it doesn't mean they're going to do that to you."
Napoli led the league in pitches seen per plate appearance (4.59). In watching so many pitches, Napoli not only drives up the number of pitches from the opposing pitcher, but he works the count -- hopefully in his favor
In the second inning Thursday, Sanchez fell behind 3-1. His slider was not hitting the corners. So he threw a fastball, which Napoli launched.
Napoli said he doesn't like striking out -- "I try to put the ball in play. It (the strikeouts) just happens sometimes" -- but Farrell isn't concerned about Napoli or anyone else.
"Because we get deep in the count, we're going to hit with two strikes a lot. Strikeouts will come," Farrell said. "You take the good with the bad.
"We don't want (Napoli) in the box feeling he has to protect. Otherwise, he might not hit a ball 400 feet."
That reference was to Napoli's home run Tuesday, off a 3-2 Justin Verlander fastball, in the 1-0 win over Detroit.
A clutch hitter. Napoli reminds you of Mark Bellhorn, Boston's second baseman in 2004. Bellhorn used to hold the strikeout record (177). He also hit three home runs in the playoffs, as the Red Sox won the World Series.
Napoli, a stronger version of Bellhorn, has Boston on the doorstep of another World Series.
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