Eureka: Mike Napoli rediscovers his swing, re-emerges as a force
|09.07.13 at 6:36 pm ET|
NEW YORK — Remember the Mike Napoli who carried the Red Sox lineup through the first month of the season? It would appear that he’s back.
The first baseman hit two home runs in the Red Sox’ 13-9 win over the Yankees. With a second-inning, two-run homer, he not only gave the Sox an early lead but also improved over his last 12 games to a resounding line of a .409 average with a .500 OBP and .909 slugging mark while slamming six home runs from foul pole to foul pole. Napoli, after blasting his 20th and 21st homers of the season, confirmed the obvious: He’s once again locked in.
“I felt like my swing was coming,” said Napoli. “I feel really good in the box.”
Both of Napoli’s homers came at very opportune times for the Sox. His first turned a scoreless game into a 2-0 lead, as he connected on a David Huff fastball after the Yankee lefty fell behind in the count, 3-0.
“You’re probably going to get a fastball on that count,” said Napoli. “I was trying to swing hard and barrel up.”
The second homer provided the Sox with an additional insurance run, stretching the Yankee deficit back to four runs.
“He’s in a great place right now,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “I think periodic rest has helped that. Not only the home runs with people on base, but [also] the big one late in the game to give us a four run lead again. This is almost reminiscent to the April that he had coming out of spring training. He’s obviously a major threat in the lineup.”
Napoli was satisfied to deliver some offense and lighten the load for the pitching staff, including longtime friend John Lackey.
“We haven’t really scored runs for Lackey,” said Napoli, “so it was nice to get a couple runs early for him and let him settle in. We got a good team victory and we’re happy.”
Lackey sensed a big day was coming for the Sox slugger.
“It’s Nap’s time of year,” said Lackey. “He’ll be ready to roll in the next month, too.”
“That guy is a heck of a hitter,” added Jonny Gomes. “I think he single-handedly stopped the talks of David Ortiz being injured at the beginning of the year, and that could have been a huge story. We jumped on his back that first month. He’s got it rolling in September when we need it rolling.”
The first baseman has now boosted his line for the year to a .260 average, .351 OBP and .480 slugging mark along with his 21 homers and 85 RBI. With his late surge, he’s now posting above-average across-the-board numbers among big league first basemen, ranking 12th among 27 qualifying players at the position in OBP, seventh in slugging, sixth in OPS (.831), ninth in RBI and tied for 10th in homers. (For the sake of comparison: The man who served as the Red Sox first baseman last year, Adrian Gonzalez, is hitting .292 with a .337 OBP, .455 slugging mark, 19 homers and 87 RBI.)
Napoli knows he’s in a zone at the plate, something the Red Sox will need to have success in the post-season.
“I finally found it,” said Napoli. “That comfort zone to where I could drive the ball. I’m just going to stick to what I’m doing and hopefully it keeps going.”
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