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Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia explain what went wrong on costly pop-up

05.15.13 at 12:14 am ET
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First baseman Mike Napoli's inability to catch a pop-up proved a game-changing play. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It had already been a tough inning for John Lackey. The Red Sox starting pitcher, who carried a 3-0 lead into the fourth inning, had seen that advantage get flushed as an opportunistic Rays team rallied on the strength of four hits — including a check-swing double down the left-field line by Luke Scott.

With runners on second and third and two outs, Lackey’s outing stood in considerable peril. It was 3-3, and a mislocated pitch to Matt Joyce could mean two or even three runs.

But after a first-pitch swing-and-miss changeup, Lackey put a pitch right where he wanted it — a fastball that got on Joyce’s hands. Joyce popped it up a mile (“I hit it on the barrel — I hit it really well, just I hit it really high”), long enough that back down on earth below, trouble started brewing.

The footwork of Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia as they crept towards the ball was hesitant, uncertain and in Napoli’s case, a bit faltering. Ultimately, when the ball settled, it did so just behind Napoli and bounced on the ground; Pedroia hollered for Napoli not to touch it, to see if it might roll foul. But it stayed just inside the line, coming to a halt on the dirt of the basepaths.

Two runs scored, with the Rays claiming a 5-3 lead that ultimate provided the final margin of victory. Ballgame.

“It’s frustrating, for sure,” acknowledged Lackey. “I made a pitch, and I needed an out.”

Napoli took full responsibility for the miscue. He suggested that he didn’t lose the ball against the roof, and that instead, his problem was purely fundamental as opposed to visual.

“I didn’t make the play. I saw it up and overran it. … My first read was stay back and then I started running in and overran it,” said Napoli. “I’ve played here before (at first). It’s a white roof, but I saw the ball and like I said, I overran it.”

Pedroia countered that, given his experience playing indoors at Tropicana Field, he should have made the play.

“It was up there a while. I’ve played a lot of games at this field. I ran to it and took my eye off it and tried to find it again, and I couldn’t find it. It’s probably an easier play for me than Nap because a left-handed hitter and I had a better angle. I just took my eye off it. I know better than to do that. We lose it. It just drops,” said Pedroia. “I was kind of playing deep, and I just kind of ran up. I know better than to take my eye off it when you run here because then you can’t find it. He hasn’t played that many games in the field here, and I’ve played a lot. It’s my responsibility to help him out in those situations and catch the ball.”

Napoli, however, refused to accept the reprieve.

“That’s a long way for him to run. That’s a play I should’ve made and I didn’t,” said the first baseman. “Felt bad, because John’s out there, he got the guy to pop up, and if it’s a tie ball game, he probably would’ve pitched a little longer. Just overran the ball and didn’t make the play.”

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