Everybody loved it: the swanky crowd dining on grass-fed filets with Hollandaise sauce in the EMC Club, the bleacher creatures scarfing Fenway Franks; and the Red Sox diehards from Block Island to the Canadian maritimes who were warmed amid fall’s first deep chill by the performance of a playoff sensation named Napoli.
He has a postseason way about him, that Mike Napoli. He was extraordinary for the Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series, batting .350 with two home runs and 10 RBIs, only to be denied the MVP award when the Rangers suffered a devastating, fall-from-ahead loss in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Napoli put himself in position to exact a measure of revenge against the Cardinals by hitting a home run that made all the difference in Boston’s 1-0 victory over the Tigers in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
And when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded Wednesday night for his first postseason at-bat against the Cards since the 2011 calamity, Napoli seized the moment, lacing a bases-clearing double that gave the Sox all the runs they needed in an 8-1 thumping of his St. Louis nemesis before the Fenway faithful.
“They took a world championship away from me,’’ Napoli said afterward, though he indicated he is more intent on winning a title of his own than avenging the one he lost.
“I love this stage,’’ Napoli said. “It’s in the spotlight. I really enjoy this time of year, I guess. It’s just going out there and getting the job done.’’
A good team exploits its opponent’s errors, and Napoli did the honors for the Sox after a controversial play by Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma.
With one out and runners at first and second after Jacoby Ellsbury walked and Dustin Pedroia singled, David Ortiz bounced a potential double-play ball to the right side of the infield. Second baseman Matt Carpenter flipped to Kozma, the ball deflecting off Kozma’s glove.
Umpire Dana DeMuth initially ruled Kozma caught the ball, forcing Pedroia. Protests ensued, and the call was reversed, loading the bases for Napoli.
The Cardinals, however, still were “a ground ball away from getting out of the inning’’ with a double play, Sox catcher David Ross said. “And we had one of our slower guys at the plate in Nap. But then he doubles in the gap. It was a great at-bat and a huge momentum shift.’’
The Cardinals never recovered. But they are not the first to suffer Napoli’s wrath. This fall alone, he already had victimized the Rays and Tigers. He doubled and drove in a run against the Rays before he added two more doubles and a pair of home runs against the Tigers.
“His extra-base power has been clear,’’ Sox manager John Farrell said. “He has come up big for us, particularly in Game 3 in Detroit, and every game since he has been right in the middle of a lot of our multi-run innings.’’
Napoli has reached the postseason in six of the last seven seasons. In 43 postseason games, he is batting .264 with 7 home runs, 25 RBIs, and 18 walks.
He can be streaky, but he has found a knack of saving his best for October.
“We ride the peaks and valleys with him,’’ Farrell said. “He does have some streakiness in his career path, and when he’s on the good side of those streaks, he has had the ability to carry us, and he’s doing that right now.’’
Napoli worked himself into a hitter’s count, 2-and-0, against St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright before he sent a high cut fastball bouncing to the wall in left-center for the three-run double.
“I’m just trying to get the ball up in the air to the outfield in that situation,’’ Napoli said. “I got a pitch I can handle to drive out there.’’
It made life a lot easier for Sox starter Jon Lester, who made the most of the early 3-0 cushion. Lester has seen the damage Napoli has done by grinding down opposing pitchers.
“The thing that impresses me the most about him is the amount of pitches he sees,’’ Lester said. “It seems like every time he’s up there, it’s 3-and-2, 2-and-2. I think it gives him the advantage over the pitcher. He has come up big for us all year, and especially here lately against some really good pitchers.’’
Napoli’s poise in pressure situations is not lost on his teammates.
“That guy is obviously playoff-tested, World Series-tested,’’ Jonny Gomes said. “We’ve got a couple of guys like that. Nothing is really going to catch them off guard, and those guys like Nap and [Pedroia] and [Ortiz] are getting some big hits for us.’’
Glad to help, Napoli suggested. He has a plan.
“Just grind through every at-bat,’’ he said. “Even if I struck out the last time, I always feel like I’m going to get a hit.’’