Another huge day from Mike Napoli and perhaps the best start yet from Wade Miley made for another win for a Red Sox club that suddenly looks like a very real baseball team.
If there were any question that Mike Napoli was back and running at full strength, he did not let them linger for long. After retiring the first four batters he faced, Hector Santiago allowed a single to Xander Bogaerts, then proved the entirely movable object in the way of the unstoppable force that is suddenly Mike Napoli. His second pitch to the first baseman was 82 MPH, chest high, and caught the outside of the zone. A cold Napoli finds a way to swing through that pitch, but this Napoli launched it all the way to the wall in center field and then beyond it, more than a few rows deep.
For Wade Miley, who had been given all of six runs to work with in his last two starts, the early lead must have seemed like quite the luxury. It was one he would do his best to hold onto for a long time. Miley was not the strikeout-heavy pitcher we've seen in a few of his starts this year, but that was because the at bats weren't even lasting three pitches with any regularity. Instead, the Sox got the groundball king they had gone to the Diamondbacks looking for back in the offseason.
Yes, Miley got some good help from his defense. In particular,y Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt, who had more than their fair share of highlight plays during the game. But that's supposed to be the deal this year: the Red Sox rotation gets ground balls, the fielders convert them into outs. That's exactly what happened for Miley 12 times Sunday afternoon. That he started to slip some in the second half of the game only meant that his no-hit bid ended after five innings, and his shutout in the sixth, when in the blink of an eye Erick Aybar singled to center and Mike Trout doubled off the wall. Unphased, Miley got Albert Pujols to pop out, and ended the inning on another ground ball to first.
Still, the lead was not a comfortable one just yet. Brock Holt set up a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice fly with a leadoff double in the fifth to give the Red Sox a third run, but even with Xander Bogaerts refusing to record an out, the Red Sox couldn't quite put together another rally. And had the game ended that way, we might have been giving this lineup some more sidelong glances.
But coming up to bat for the last time in the eighth, the Sox put the game away once and for all. Hanley Ramirez produced a leadoff single, then moved to third when Xander Bogaerts nabbed his fourth hit of the day. That brought Mike Napoli to the plate with two men on, and while this time he didn't quite have enough to leave the park, he did manage to produce a towering double off the Monster that brought both runners in to score. A couple more singles from Rusney Castillo and Pablo Sandoval--hitting lefty-on-lefty, no less!--brought Napoli in as well, making it a 12-hit, 6-run day for the Red Sox.
It's been an awful May for the Red Sox. At the beginning, we were wondering if this rotation could ever last into the sixth. In the middle, the question became if the offense would ever get a hit with a runner in scoring position again. Hopefully for this last bit of the month and into June, the question will become how this team ever looked so bad in the first place.