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Closing Time: Mike Napoli helps Red Sox slam way past A’s

04.22.13 at 10:07 pm ET
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Mike Napoli drove in five runs on Monday night. (AP)

Given the way Mike Napoli has hit of late, it was almost assumed that he would drive in a run or two when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fifth inning on Monday. But he left no doubt about it, hitting an 0-1 fastball into the left center field stands for the fourth grand slam of his career.

Napoli drove in five runs in total on Monday, with the Sox erupting for five runs in the fifth inning en route to a 9-3 advantage. They ended up needing that cushion when Clayton Mortensen allowed three runs in the eighth inning, but held on to secure a 9-6 victory that snapped a two-game losing streak.

Felix Doubront had his issues in his third outing of the year, but he didn’t need to be perfect with the support he got from his lineup, and especially from his first baseman. Napoli now has 25 RBIs in 19 games, to go with 21 doubles and four homers. He’s driven in 17 of those runs over the last nine games. He is now in striking distance of the Red Sox record for the most runs driven in during the season’s first month, a mark currently held by Manny Ramirez, who had 31 in April 2001.

Napoli’s first RBI of the night came when he drove in David Ortiz with a second-inning double to right. He took a pitch to the inside of his right elbow in the fourth and was visibly in pain, but the grand slam he hit next time up erased any potential concerns about his health. Monday was the fifth time in his career that he’s driven in at least five runs in a game.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong for the Sox:

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX– Napoli is now hitting .306 with a 1.001 OPS this year at Fenway Park. As impressive as those numbers are, they’re actually worse than the outrageous success he’s enjoyed in his career at Fenway. He entered this season with marks of .306 and 1.107 at Fenway, part of the reason why the Sox targeted him as an ideal middle-of-the-order fit.

Will Middlebrooks took a step toward breaking out of of his much-discussed slump with a three-run homer into the Monster Seats in the bottom of the fourth. A’s starter A.J. Griffin left a slider over the plate, and Middlebrooks crushed it for his fifth homer of the year.

Middlebrooks had been hitting .093 over his last 11 games entering Monday, going 4-for-43 with 16 strikeouts in that time. He did also strike out twice on Monday night.

– Sox manager John Farrell said before Monday’s game that he wasn’t concerned about Stephen Drew‘s approach at the plate, despite his 3-for-30 start to the year. Drew justified that statement first with a long fly ball that ran out of gas just in front of the Athletics bullpen for an out, then with a solidly hit single in the third inning. He also negotiated an eight-pitch at-bat in the seventh to draw a walk.

“I just think it’s a matter of at-bats with Stephen before things begin to click for him, because it’s not a flaw in the swing or anything like that,” Farrell said. “It’s just a matter of building consistent timing and starting to build some confidence on his end.”

Drew also showed some impressive defensive range, making a difficult play on a grounder hit by Coco Crisp.

– Despite saying yesterday that he didn’t feel comfortable yet at the plate, Ortiz doubled for the second straight game on Monday, driving the ball into center field in the second inning. Ortiz looked slow coming into second on his double, but he looked steady at the plate. He also drew a walk to load the bases in the fifth inning and scored on Napoli’s grand slam.

– Doubront pitched into the seventh inning for the first time all year. (In his first two starts, he didn’t make it past the fifth.) He almost didn’t make it Monday, as the wheels fell off in the fifth, when he walked three Oakland hitters. On the positive side, he loaded the bases twice in that frame but managed to limit the damage to one run. His final line was eight strikeouts and five walks over 6 2/3 innings in which he gave up three runs. Doubront recorded the 10th quality start of the year for the Red Sox, but just the third by a pitcher other than Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz.

– With the game’s outcome briefly in question in the top of the eighth, Shane Victorino showed terrific range in making a running catch in the right field corner on a liner by Oakland’s Eric Sogard. What would have been a one-out, two-run double or triple instead turned into the harmless second out of the inning, permitting Tazawa to escape the jam.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– Back when the game was just 4-3 in favor of the Sox, Doubront came very close to relinquishing that lead in a rocky fifth inning.

After striking out Josh Reddick to open the inning, Doubront issued a free pass to Nate Freiman, allowed a single to Andy Parrino, and walked Coco Crisp on four pitches. Chris Young then brought Freiman home with a sacrifice fly to center on a 1-0 count.

Then Doubront walked Brandon Moss to load the bases again and, after getting ahead 0-2 on Jed Lowrie, just missed the plate once inside and twice outside to fill up the count. Fortunately for Doubront, Lowrie didn’t make good contact with his 3-2 fastball, flying out to center to end the 31-pitch inning.

Through the first four innings, Doubront’s control had been strong — he had thrown 41 of his 60 pitches for strikes and walked just one. He then walked four in the fifth and sixth combined, and finished with 67 of his 113 pitches (59 percent) going for strikes.

- Mortensen had his worst outing of the year in relief of Doubront. In 2/3 of an inning (the last out of the seventh and the first of the eighth), he allowed three earned runs on two hits and a walk, letting the A’s cut the Sox’ six-run lead in half.

Josh Donaldson and Reddick doubled off of Mortensen to drive in the runs, and it took Junichi Tazawa to get the last two outs of the inning after Alex Wilson walked the only batter he faced in relief of Mortensen. Mortensen’s inability to navigate the lead to a conclusion also ended up meaning that Andrew Bailey‘s services were required in the ninth inning. With Bailey pitching for the third time in as many days, he’s likely to be unavailable on Tuesday.

Dustin Pedroia reached on an error charged to Oakland second baseman Andy Parrino in the fifth (a key play given that Napoli followed two batters later with his grand slam), but other than that, he didn’t reach base Monday, ending a streak of 28 straight games in which he’d gotten on base at least once.

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