NEW YORK — Mike Napoli strikes out too much, always has and probably always will. He isn’t afraid to work deep into counts looking for a pitch he can drive out of the ballpark, and that approach comes with a price.
Manager John Farrell knew what kind of player Napoli was when the Red Sox signed him and stayed patient through a slump that lasted much of the summer.
Napoli dropped down in the lineup for a few days and got some extra days off. Slowly, he regained his timing.
“I felt like my swing was coming,” Napoli said.
Now it’s here. Napoli hit two home runs and drove in three runs Saturday as the Red Sox again beat the Yankees, 13-9.
It was another wild day at Yankee Stadium as the Red Sox took a 12-3 lead in the fifth inning then watched the Yankees crawl back. Over the course of three days the teams have combined for 59 runs, 74 hits, and 26 pitching changes. But the Sox won all three games.
“We’re doing it in bulk right now,” said Jonny Gomes, who was 3 for 4 with a home run and four RBIs.
The 87-57 Sox have the best record in the majors, have won five straight, eight of nine, and 12 of their last 14 games.
So many runs crossed the plate that baseball historians went deep to find context. The Sox are the first team to score at least nine runs in three consecutive days against New York since 1912, when they were called the Highlanders.
For the first time in their history, the Yankees have scored seven or more runs in three straight games without winning at least one.
“No lead seems to be big enough,” Farrell said. “It’s a testament to the offensive capability of both clubs and the relentlessness at the plate.”
Napoli has been in the middle of it, going 7 for 12 with a double, three home runs, and eight RBIs in the series. He got a day off in Los Angeles Aug. 23 to rest a sore left foot and is hitting .409 with six home runs, 16 RBIs, and a .909 slugging percentage in 12 games since.
As he did in April, Napoli is carrying the offense.
“He’s in a great place right now. Maybe periodic rest has helped that,” Farrell said. “Obviously a major threat in the middle of the lineup.”
Napoli is a career .302 hitter in September with a 1.030 OPS. His teammates knew a surge was coming.
“We’ve all seen the guy play over the years,” Gomes said. “I think we all did what we could to stay positive with Mike because he’s the kind of hitter who can make a difference.”
Napoli said his foot feels better and that has contributed to him getting his timing down. He had a two-run homer in the second inning to get the Sox going and a solo shot in the ninth to make sure they held on.
“For me, I’ve been there before and I’ve struggled through a season. I had to keep grinding through it,” Napoli said. “I finally found it. I knew I’d find a way to find that comfort zone where I could drive the ball.”
The Red Sox had 14 hits off David Huff and two relievers. Rookie Xander Bogaerts was 2 for 4 with a double and his first career home run.
The 20-year Bogaerts is the youngest Red Sox to hit a home run since Dwight Evans in 1972. The blast to left field in the fifth inning traveled nearly 450 feet.
Bogaerts couldn’t admire his shot, though. He cramped up in his calf when he hit the ball and was worried about trying to run.
“I’ll watch it later, he said. “It’s an exciting thing. So many people have called me.”
Over the last four games, the Red Sox are 64 of 166 (.386) with 54 runs. They have 13 doubles and 17 home runs in that stretch.
The 54 runs are the most in a four-game stretch for the Sox since the 1950 season when they scored 64 runs from June 7-10 Not since 2003 have the Sox hit 17 home runs over four games.
John Lackey, a victim of poor run support all season, got the victory despite allowing seven runs on eight hits and three walks over 5⅔ innings. He appreciated the work his teammates did.
“It’s fun to watch when they get rolling like that,” Lackey said.
The Sox had scored only 13 runs in the previous six games Lackey started. But runs weren’t a problem this time.
“Not even Lackey could stop our offense today,” reliever Craig Breslow joked.
“That was a pretty good line,” said Lackey, now 9-12.
When the Yankees closed to 12-9, Junichi Tazawa got two outs in the eighth inning to leave a runner stranded. Breslow got the final two outs.
The Sox will have Jon Lester on the mound Sunday as they seek a rare four-game sweep of their rivals.
Sometime in the next few days, Napoli will break the team record for strikeouts in a season. He has 171, only six fewer than Mark Bellhorn had in 2004.
Napoli would prefer to make more consistent contact but he accepts what kind of hitter he is. His 34 doubles, 21 home runs, and 85 RBIs also are a product of his approach.
Besides, Napoli’s .351 on-base percentage is well above the AL average of .320.
Like Lackey, Bellhorn had a high OBP in 2004, hit for power, and drove in 82 runs. Then he helped the Red Sox win the World Series.
“I’ll take that,” Napoli said. “In the end, that’s all everybody wants.”