ST. PETERSBURG -- When you watch Mike Napoli play first base, you'd never know that he was primarily a catcher before this season.
The Red Sox never take Napoli out for defense in the late innings.
"That happened because of [infield instructor] Brian Butterfield, in addition to Mike's athletic ability," said manager John Farrell. "Early on before Mike got into games, we had some time we could devote after the workouts where he and Butter had a lot of concentrated one-on-one work, and in those first few days, I remember watching them work and talking to Butter afterward, he felt like this was a guy that had good mobility."
The transition from catcher to first base doesn't go so smooth. Just ask Mike Piazza. But in this case, it couldn't have gone better.
"Because he was a catcher, he plays low to the ground where a lot of balls are when you're fielding or digging the ball out of the dirt defensively," Farrell said. "Going back in the conversations with Butter, we felt like when he gained confidence getting further off the bag when we used some of our conditioning, that was an outward sign that he felt comfortable and he trusted his internal clock to get back to the bag on a ground ball elsewhere in the infield.
"By expanding that range or positioning, that's given him so many more opportunities to field balls in a straight-up position rather than having to range or dive or whatever it might have been. He's a good athlete. He came to us with a number of games played at first base. It wasn't like we took a guy green to the position and had to make wholesale changes."
The one memorable gaffe Napoli had this season at first base came at Tropicana Field in June, when he couldn't handle a popup.
But Napoli is far more comfortable on popups these days.
"Yeah, and leading up to that and then for a period of time after that, a lot of the early work came off a Ponza [pitching] machine with fly balls in Fenway Park and just getting accustomed to repetition with fly balls," Farrell said. "We've seen a number of them of late where there's not even a second thought now."
Tazawa's resurgence would be key
ST. PETERSBURG -- If the Red Sox had a perceived weakness going into the postseason, it was their righty setup crew in front of closer Koji Uehara.
But if Junichi Tazawa can pitch like he did in Game 2 -- not to mention the way he did earlier in the season -- that could turn into a strength.
"I think he's throwing the ball well," manager John Farrell said. "And I think in those one-inning stints, whether it's coming in to complete an inning or take a clean inning and complete it, right now that's where he's best."
Tazawa had an ERA of 3.29 or lower in every month but September, when he gave up six runs over 8 1/3 innings.
"You know, whether it's Taz, whether it's [lefty Craig Breslow], the fact they come in and throw quality stuff and throw strikes, that's the biggest thing," said Farrell. "We don't really fear that they're going to compound the inning with erratic command, and he's done that all year. He's a good strike thrower."
Red Sox gear up for Tropicana Field's quirks
ST. PETERSBURG -- After the first two games in Boston, Rays manager Joe Maddon felt his team was "out-Fenwayed", referring to the unique nooks and crannies of the 101-year-old ballpark.
Though Tropicana Field hasn't been around nearly as long, it has its quirks as well, and the Red Sox will try to be prepared.
What is the most challenging aspect of life at Tropicana Field for a visiting team?
"The different surface that we're not typically accustomed to all the time," said manager John Farrell. "You can get a change of speed on some ground balls where the turf here seems much softer and slower than most, and then the dirt portion is relatively hard. You'd think it'd be the reverse of that, but it's not. Getting accustomed to the surface and then obviously tracking balls in the roof here [is the hardest part]."
The postseason crowds at Tropicana Field can also be a lot more challenging, particularly with all the cowbells clanging.
Farrell was Boston's pitching coach when the Rays beat the Red Sox in a memorable Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series.
"Yeah, they get a little raucous here, for sure," Farrell said.
• If you venture inside the Red Sox's clubhouse, it's hard to miss the cigar-store statue that resembles a Native American. It has become a good-luck charm of sorts, considering Jake Peavy purchased it right before the Red Sox went on their torrid late-season run.
"We did some negotiating, and I carried him on to the ballpark and brought him in," said Peavy. "We had some guys banged up at the time. I came up with some elaborate story about how he had some healing spirit, so he started in the training room, getting some guys right. And he made his first appearance that night in San Francisco, or that day, and we ended up losing that game that I pitched.
"And we had a serious team talk with him and told him if he didn't show up tomorrow with a little bit better attitude and show us his powers, then we were going to have to lose him on the plane ride to L.A. But he showed up in a big way. [Felix Doubront] pitched well that day, and we took him to L.A. He showed up for us there in L.A, we won that big series, he got on the flight back with us."
And Peavy added this: "He's going to ride on my duck boat if we win the World Series."
• Rays lefty David Price reiterated how sorry he was to criticize David Ortiz for admiring his second home run in Game 2. Ortiz had said he and Price were fine after Sunday's workout. And Price elaborated on the situation to reporters before Game 3 on Monday.
"I reached out to him and I told him how much respect I have for him," said Price. "He's someone that's always smiling, he's always having a good time, he's always there for his teammates. We've all seen that over the years. He takes the time for the little people. Every time he sees my little nephew, he takes the time to talk to him. Every time they're in town here, he takes the time to go over to my parents and to speak to my mom and dad. It was just an extremely poor decision on my part. It stinks."