With the count 2 and 2 in the ninth inning, and Dustin Pedroia on first base representing the winning run, Mike Napoli’s focus — his only option — was to try to put the ball in play.
He saw a splitter from Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta, and he lunged at it.
“I was out front, but I knew I hit it pretty good,” Napoli said.
What the swing lacked in convention it made up for in pure power. The ball sailed out to left field until it finally dotted the Green Monster.
Pedroia wheeled his way from first, with third base coach Brian Butterfield watching the play unfold. A day earlier, with Pedroia speeding into the same turn, Butterfield had held him up to keep alive the possibility of a big inning.
This time, he circled his arms wildly, giving Pedroia the signal to score.
“I was just running,” Napoli said. “I saw where Pedey was and I saw there was a chance that he could score. So it was an exciting moment.”
Napoli’s double gave the Red Sox a 3-2 win Monday — their second walkoff in three games — and a sweep of the Rays.
“We feel like we’re never out of a game,” Napoli said. “Our pitchers have been doing a good job of keeping us close. We’re just going out there, and what the situation calls for, we’re trying to do.”
Napoli dragged two strikeouts and a popout with him to the plate before coming up with the winning hit. In the moment, he was able to shake off those struggles to produce his team-leading 11th RBI.
“That’s what you’ve got to do,” he said. “You can’t do anything about that at-bat when it’s over. You’ve just got to move on to the next one. A good veteran ball club knows how to do that.”
Coming in, Napoli was hitting .217, though slowly developing a consistent sense of timing at the plate.
While it hasn’t all come together yet, he said, hitting towering, run-scoring doubles in consecutive games has him confident that his swing is coming around.
“I feel good” he said. “Sometimes I don’t feel so good, but it’s a process. I’m just trying to go up there and not waste ABs and just give a tough at-bat every time. I’m working hard in the cage and in my BPs and just trying to take it into the game.”
Clutch hitting has been one of the ingredients in the Red Sox’ 8-4 start. A year ago, they were 17-22 in one-run games and 2-10 in extra-inning games. But now they have a lineup with players who do the small things.
Shane Victorino, whose infield single drove in the winning run in the series opener Saturday, came into the game hitting .556 with runners in scoring position and drove in another in the first inning with a ground ball to the right side.
Pedroia has reached base in all 12 games (his longest streak to start a season), and his one-out walk in the ninth sparked Monday’s comeback.
“I know it’s pretty cliché, but this team never gives up,” said third baseman Will Middlebrooks. “I feel like we’re pretty relentless and we never really picture ourselves out of a game. We expect to win and I think that’s why we’re playing well.”
For the first time in four seasons, the Sox have swept the Rays at Fenway. On a homestand in which all but one of six games was decided by three runs or fewer, they went 4-2, figuring out ways to put wins together.
“It’s a big motivation,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Especially at home. Last year, I know our record wasn’t too good at home. So whenever we’ve got the advantage of being at home like that, we’ve got to take advantage of it.
“A win like today is huge. It shows that we can come back and win it from behind. We can take care of business.”