Mike Napoli has always been a high-strikeout, high-power kind of player. The Red Sox knew what they were getting when they acquired him, but recently it has been more of the strikeouts than the big flies. In June and July, he has 10 extra-base hits and 49 strikeouts (he has struck out 38.9% of the time). However, last night he may have finally broke out of that slump as he hit not one, but two key home runs in an 8-7 walk-off win.
The first of these homers came when the Red Sox were down 3-1 after just three innings given a shaky start to the game by Ryan Dempster. However, at that point the Red Sox had fought back a little bit: they had scored one run and had runners on first and second with just one out. Napoli took a high fastball and absolutely crushed it, hammering the ball out of the park and onto Lansdowne Street to make it 4-3. Napoli hit his second home run a bit later in the game, the bottom of the eleventh inning tied 7-7 to be exact. He crushed an outside fastball to dead center and just muscled it into the first row of the bleachers for a walk-off home run.
Napoli bailed the Red Sox out, but they did not play a great game overall tonight. The team made three errors and watched some serious struggling from starting pitcher Ryan Dempster. Dempster allowed three runs in the first two innings, but settled down for the next three. However, he put a few men on base to start to the sixth before being taken from the game. His final day looked like 5.1 innings, 6 hits, 5 runs (3 earned), 4 walks, 4 strikeouts and he is still 5-8 with a 4.28 ERA.
Ryan Dempster did exit the game with a 7-3 lead, but Craig Breslow closed the gap a little bit with a shaky performance. He allowed both inherited runners to score on RBI singles by Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano. The Yankees then kept surging back in the eighth inning off Junichi Tazawa, who replaced Breslow after he allowed two of the first three runners to reach base. Two more runs scored on an errant throw by Jose Iglesias and an RBI groundout to tie the game up at 7-7.
After the more polished and decorated arms in the Red Sox bullpen had failed to preserve the lead, the Red Sox got solid performances out of some unlikely candidates. Matt Thornton (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 K), Koji Uehara (1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 K), Drake Britton (1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 K), and Pedro Beato (1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 K) shut down the Yankees for four innings of scoreless relief. This culminated in Napoli’s blast to center which sent the Red Sox home with an even 60-40 record and a still nerve-wracking 1.5 game lead over the Rays.