Napoli trying to recapture Fenway magic
Catcher visualizes '08 ALDS Game 3 performance
BOSTON -- Eleven months ago at Fenway Park, Angels catcher Mike Napoli seized the moment and the stage, delivering the performance of his life with his team's season hanging in the balance.
It was Game 3 of the American League Division Series, the Red Sox one happy ending away from sending the Angels off for the winter. Napoli took matters into his own powerful hands that night, crushing a pair of homers against Josh Beckett and scoring the winning run in the 12th inning on Erick Aybar's single after driving his third hit of the night.
Napoli called 226 pitches that night from six Angels pitchers in a 5-4 victory, with Jered Weaver finishing what Joe Saunders started and claiming the win in relief.
The Angels were eliminated in Game 4, but Napoli had made his mark with an individual performance that holds its ground with any in franchise history.
In the grip of an 0-for-14 slide and 2-for-38 drought, Napoli was using a form of visualization in drawing on that Oct. 5, 2008, classic before going to work catching Saunders, matched against veteran right-hander Paul Byrd, on Wednesday night.
"I try to think about stuff like that, the good things that I've felt," Napoli said. "I'll be sitting there in my bed at night, thinking about it. Or sitting here at my locker, I'll think about it."
Napoli brought the Angels even at 3 in the third inning of that ALDS game with a mammoth two-run blast half-way up the light standard in left field against Beckett. Two innings later, Napoli gave his team the lead with a solo blast to left center against the Boston ace.
"The first [homer] I hit in that game was on a curveball," Napoli said. "The second one, to left center, was a fastball. I got hit by a pitch [by Manny Delcarmen] later in the game, and then I got the single [against Javier Lopez] leading off the 12th when Aybar drove me in."
Napoli recalled sitting at his locker after the game, completely drained -- and a little amazed by what he'd done.
"One thing it showed is I'm definitely not scared," Napoli said, referring to October pressure. "I liked it -- even being on the road. It's nice disappointing other fans. They're right there and into the game. They're sure going to give it to you when things go bad, so it's nice to be able to quiet them down when you get a chance."
Napoli left them in stunned silence with his two rockets off Beckett.
With his big swing, Napoli can lose his timing and stroke at times, and this has been one of those times. The recent struggles have dropped his average to .269 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs.
"I've hit some balls hard lately," Napoli said. "It's time to start getting some balls to drop."
His roommate, best buddy and co-catcher, Jeff Mathis, has a feeling Napoli is ready to unleash some fury.
"We had a nice talk today," Mathis said. "I think Nap's ready to go."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.