ARLINGTON, Texas — The two years Mike Napoli spent in Texas, he said, allowed him to find himself as a ballplayer.
So when he returned Friday for the first time since signing with the Red Sox in January, there were faces he wanted to see, friends he wanted to catch up with.
Adrian Beltre was one of them. They both arrived in Texas before the 2011 season. Napoli was traded there by the Blue Jays. Beltre signed with the Rangers after a single season in Boston.
Napoli, having entered the series with six home runs and a major league-leading 31 RBIs, was off to a start that couldn’t have been much hotter.
Beltre had seen him do the same thing that first year in Texas. He just doesn’t want to see him do it this weekend.
“It was good to see him again,” Beltre said. “Napoli’s a great guy and we’re happy for him. He’s off to a good start so far this year and hopefully, he’ll keep it — after he leaves this city.”
On Friday, Beltre was the one doing the damage. His four hits, including a bases-loaded double in the fourth, fueled the Rangers’ 18-hit, 7-0 runaway over the Sox in the opener of their three-game set.
For a player coming out of a 2-for-20 slump over the past five games (4 for 31 over his past eight), the breakout at the plate was more than welcomed.
In the past week he watched his batting average plummet from a season-high .250 to .215. He had two four-hit games last August, and was starving for another.
“It feels nice,” Beltre said. “I haven’t seen four hits in a long time. It feels nice to get in a groove a little bit and hopefully that’ll be the start of a better streak.”
Like most of the Rangers, he had seen little of Red Sox starter Felix Doubront, going 1 for 3 against him last season.
In three at-bats against Doubront Friday, he saw almost every pitch the righthander had to offer. Doubront had no answers for him.
Eight of the Rangers’ hits came with two outs, and three belonged to Beltre, who made Doubront’s 3⅔-inning start a nightmare.
In the first inning, he ripped a single to right, though that was spoiled when Elvis Andrus got caught trying to come back to second after initially speeding past the bag, with Shane Victorino making a heads-up play to throw him out and end the inning.
In the third, Beltre worked Doubront for eight pitches, before getting a 2-and-2 curveball that he roped into left. But after Nelson Cruz followed up with a single of his own, the inning died out.
“I saw everything,” Beltre said. “I saw a lot of changeups, cutters, fastball, sliders. I was lucky enough to get a good pitch to hit.”
Finally, in the fourth with the bases jammed, he broke through. He worked the count full before ripping a liner to left-center. It was hit hard enough for Lance Berkman, who had scored from first on doubles twice in the past two seasons, to come around and score, his slide into home barely necessary.
Since leaving Boston after 2010, Beltre had hit just .207 against the Sox. The turmoil the Sox had endured the past two seasons is well documented, as was the 20-8 start they had gotten off to this season.
But as a key piece in the lineup for a team that’s leading the American League West, Beltre’s focus was on his on club.
“I’m worrying about Texas,” Beltre said.
Beltre has watched as Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler has put the offense on his back — he’s batting .342 with five homers and 18 RBIs, including a three-hit performance Friday night.
Getting in on the action, Beltre said, was gratifying.
“It’s just nice to get involved with the other guys,” Beltre said. “Basically, Ian has been the one that’s been carrying the club offensively and Lance, but it’s nice for everybody to get involved and I’m happy to be one of those guys.”