BOSTON – Mike Napoli tried to downplay the question about playing in Fenway Park.
Nope. He couldn’t help himself.
Napoli hit a grand slam and drove in five runs, Will Middlebrooks busted out of a slump with a three-run homer and the Boston Red Sox bounced back from a doubleheader sweep by beating the Oakland Athletics 9-6 on Monday night.
“I’ve been feeling good on the road, too, but I just love hitting here,” he said. “You’ve got the wall right there and you can get away with some stuff that you don’t necessarily have to hit it so good. Sometimes you can hit a pop fly that would be an out at some other parks and it goes off the wall.”
As a visiting player, Napoli’s playing time was limited but the results were excellent in Fenway. In 19 career games, he hit .306 with seven homers and 17 RBI.
Signed as a free agent during the offseason because of his propensity to pull the ball for power with Fenway’s Green Monster, Napoli is off to a great start, collecting 25 RBI and four homers in 19 games.
“The last 10 days his swing has been so compact,” Boston Manager John Farrell said. “We’re 19 games into the season and he’s got 25 RBIs, that’s what we were hoping he’d be able to do.”
The Red Sox, swept by Kansas City in a split-doubleheader Sunday, scored three runs in the fourth and five in the fifth. Napoli’s fourth career slam keyed the five-run fifth and helped end Oakland’s eight-game winning streak against Boston.
The Athletics dropped their season-high fourth straight after being swept in a three-game series at the Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend. Oakland’s winning streak against Boston was its longest in franchise history since the Philadelphia Athletics won eight in row in 1932.
Felix Doubront (2-0) struggled with his control, but got the win on a night with windchill in the 30s. He allowed three runs on three hits, walking five. He also threw two wild pitches and struck out eight in 62/3 innings.
A.J. Griffin (2-1) was tagged for a career-worst nine runs — seven earned — and eight hits in four-plus innings. Oakland Manager Bob Melvin felt as if the young right-hander was just missing up in the strike zone.
“It just looked like he was rushing just a bit and balls that are usually at the knees for him were more mid-thigh,” he said. “Actually, the ball Napoli hit was down, but he’s a pretty good low-ball hitter.”
Dustin Pedroia went 0 for 5, ending his streak of reaching base safely in each of Boston’s first 18 games.
Trailing 2-1 in the fourth, the Red Sox jumped in front when the slumping Middlebrooks belted his homer. Napoli was hit by a pitch and Daniel Nava doubled down the left field line before Middlebrooks, just 4 for his last 43 since hitting three homers in Toronto on April 7, homered into the Green Monster seats.
Chris Young’s sacrifice fly cut it to 4-3 in the fifth, but the Athletics left the bases loaded. Boston then broke it open with Napoli’s slam.