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Mike Napoli hits critical homer as Red Sox rally

Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli watches the flight of his two run home run in the seventh inning Friday night.Barry Chin/Globe Staff
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The days leading up to the trade deadline often are laced with uncertainty.

Spinning their wheels in last place, the Red Sox could very well have been stripped for parts by contenders.

Among the possible targets were relievers Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, as well as veteran hitters Alejandro De Aza and Mike Napoli.

And despite his struggles this season, Napoli (.210, 13 HRs, 39 RBIs) had every reason to wonder whether he had played his last game for the Red Sox.

When the deadline passed quietly Friday, Napoli was able to get back to business. He didn’t waste any time, belting a two-run homer in the seventh inning that proved to be the difference in a 7-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park.


“There might have been some building anticipation for him throughout the week, thinking that there was a team that had some speculation,” said Sox manager John Farrell.

One of those teams, Farrell said, was the Pirates, who are in second place in the NL Central and in need of a righthanded power hitter.

“There wasn’t one thing said to me,” Napoli said of trade offers, refusing to let the speculation affect his routine.

“To be honest, I didn’t really worry about it,” the first baseman said. “It’s something that I can’t control. Just come to the park every day, got my work in, stuck to my plan, and tried to do anything I can to help my team win. If it was going to happen, it was going to happen. So I just came to the park and took care of my business.”

With the Sox trailing, 5-4, in the seventh and David Ortiz on first after working a critical two-out walk, Napoli came to the plate. Rays reliever Jake McGee hummed a 2-and-2 fastball toward the plate at 96 miles per hour. Even if it was a few rungs out of the strike zone, Napoli took a whack at it, anyway.


“Usually I don’t get to that pitch,” Napoli said. “I just reacted.”

But he calmed his leg kick, got his barrel to the ball, and sent a ball drifting to the Monster seats for a two-run homer that put the Sox ahead, 6-5.

When he crossed the plate, Ortiz was waiting for him with a leaping high-10. More hands awaited in the Sox dugout. The celebration seemed to have an extra shot of enthusiasm, as if the Sox were exhaling with the end of the trade deadline.

“I’m sure once the deadline closed, it’s a chance to let some of those thoughts that could potentially be a distraction — I won’t say they were — but potential distractions are eliminated,” Farrell said.

But Napoli said the relief of surviving the deadline wasn’t on his mind.

“I was just happy it put us up,” Napoli said. “I want to win. To take the lead late in the game, it’s exciting.”

The Sox had to rally twice to pick up their second straight victory.

From the five-pitch walk he gave up to Brandon Guyer to lead off the game, Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez fought through command issues. He was in and out of the zone with his fastball, hardly threw his slider, threw just 64 of his career-high 110 pitches for strikes, and got himself into trouble because of it.


But the offense propped Rodriguez up with a three-run first inning on an RBI single from De Aza and a two-run single from Blake Swihart, and from there Rodriguez found ways to keep the damage to a minimum, grinding through five innings to keep the Rays to three runs on six hits.

“When he’s not got his command, such as tonight, he’s still got premium stuff to get guys out, even in fastball counts,” Farrell said. “He was behind the count tonight but when he got back in the strike zone he wasn’t down the middle of the plate.”

Napoli’s blast came after the bullpen surrendered a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh.

Robbie Ross Jr., who walked and hit a batter, was replaced by Tazawa with two outs. The Rays turned to pinch hitter John Jaso, who doubled to deep center, scoring both runners and giving Tampa Bay a short-lived 5-4 lead.

The Sox added an insurance run in the eighth when Swihart, who doubled and advanced to third on a groundout, scored on a wild pitch.

Uehara worked the ninth inning, picking up his 23d save despite issuing a leadoff walk.

The Sox are 13 games out of first place in the AL East and eight games back in the wild-card race , but Napoli said he’ll treat the next two months the same way he treated the days leading up to the break — like there’s more business left.


“We’re not done here yet,” Napoli said. “We’ve still got 58 games to go. We know that. With this team, we can put a good run together. So we’re not giving up yet.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.