Red Sox 8, Yankees 7: Mike Napoli comes through in the end

Jared Wickerham

Mike Napoli put the Red Sox on top in the third, wasted a huge opportunity in the eighth, then made up for it with an eleventh-inning walkoff shot to earn the title of hero for the night.

It took until the early hours of Monday morning, but the Red Sox walked off over the New York Yankees in the eleventh to secure a series win to start the second half of the season.

While the night would end on a very positive note, it began with a truly pathetic first-inning performance. After a leadoff line drive single from Brett Gardner, Ryan Dempster got the ground ball he needed from Ichiro Suzuki to erase the baserunner. And he threw it away into center field. Apparently impressed by the error, Jarrod Saltalamacchia followed suit when Ichiro Suzuki stole second, and the Yankees went ahead 1-0 when there should have been two down and nobody on. A Vernon Wells single later in the inning made it 2-0, and the Red Sox looked for all the world like the mess that had finished Saturday night's game.

When the Red Sox wasted a leadoff baserunner in Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom of the first, and Robinson Cano brought home a third New York run in the top of the second, hopes for a turnaround started sinking. But the third would provide the change in momentum needed. Jacoby Ellsbury once again provided a leadoff baserunner, this time with a double down the line in right, and then scored when Dustin Pedroia went back up the middle to get the Red Sox on the board. David Ortiz put two runners on with a hit of his own, and then, with one swing of the bat, Mike Napoli turned the game on its head. Finally showing some of the Fenway Park power Red Sox fans have been waiting for, Napoli cleared everything in left field with a towering shot that left the Sox ahead 4-3.

Boston would only build on that lead in the innings to come. While Dempster settled down, the Red Sox loaded the bases against CC Sabathia in the fourth, and then scored two when Shane Victorino hit a ground ball that bounced high over the infield and into left field. Jonny Gomes added on with a solo shot in the fifth, leaving the Sox with seven unanswered runs after falling behind 3-0.

Before the Sox came up to bat again, the seesaw started to tilt back in the other direction. Ryan Dempster's night would end after two singles and a walk plated a run in the sixth with one out, and while Craig Breslow would give up a fifth New York run to come in, he did keep the Red Sox ahead with just three frames to go.

Unfortunately, he would not keep the Sox out of trouble in the seventh, allowing two to reach with a walk and a single. Junichi Tazawa entered the game, and suddenly, the bad defense was back. A bunt down the third base line by Chris Stewart led to an errant throw to first from Jose Iglesias of all people, making it a one-run game, and leaving that run just 90 feet away. All the Yankees needed was a productive out, and they got it from Luis Cruz. Tie game.

That tie, by all rights, should have come to an end in the eighth. With Shane Victorino reaching third base with one out, all the Red Sox needed from David Ortiz and Mike Napoli was a decent fly ball. David Ortiz did not provide it, but only because he drew a walk, leaving the task to Napoli. Instead of putting the Sox ahead, though, Napoli did the worst possible thing: hit a ground ball to short. 6-4-3 brought the inning to an entirely depressing conclusion.

While Napoli failed to come through in the eighth, he would make up for it three innings later. With the Red Sox failing to push across a run in the ninth and tenth, and the Yankees managing surprisingly little against Drake Britton, the game went to the bottom of the eleventh, where Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz failed to start a sorely-needed rally. Adam Warren was just one out away from the twelfth, but that out never came, and all it took was one errant pitch, and one big swing. With a full count against Mike Napoli, Warren delivered a cutter high over the outside portiion of the plate.

All year Mike Napoli has been missing the high fastball. All year it's been a perfect recipe for strikeouts with Boston's big first baseman. Not this time. This time Napoli took the high offering and launched it to deep center field, into the bleachers, putting the run onto the scoreboard.

It was a game with some seriously ugly baseball. But with a still-shaky Dempster on the mound, and even giving away runs on errors and ill-timed double plays, it was the Red Sox who ended the night celebrating at home plate. Whatever's gotten into the Red Sox these last couple nights, at least when it comes to defense and general gaffes, it wasn't enough to stop them from taking a series win. And hopefully it will be the momentum that carries over into this big series against the Rays, rather than the odd string of lapses both mental and defensive.

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