Napoli hopes HR gets him going again

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ever since he homered in his first major league plate appearance seven years ago against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, hitting the ball over the fence always seemed to come easy for Boston Red Sox slugger Mike Napoli.

But the past month has produced one of the worst droughts of his career, one that earned him a day off earlier this week and tempted manager John Farrell to drop him in the batting order.

But the power-hitting first baseman/designated hitter broke out of his long-ball slump in impressive fashion Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels, hitting a towering solo shot midway up the batter's eye in center field in the ninth inning, the final blow in a 6-2 victory at Angel Stadium.

"That was great," said David Ortiz, who hit a two-run shot of his own while pinch hitting in the eighth. "I was looking at that green [batter's eye] earlier today during batting practice and I'm thinking, 'Nobody can hit it there, and boom.' When he puts a good swing on the ball, he hits its far."

Napoli hadn't homered since June 1 in an 11-1 rout of the New York Yankees. He recorded only one other extra-base hit in all of June, a double. But he produced two hits, including a double, in Thursday's 8-2 victory against the San Diego Padres and now has an extra-base hit in back-to-back games for the first time since May 1-2.

"I've been grinding a little bit and it's just something I can build off of," Napoli said of the home run. "I can't go up there and try to hit home runs; then everything gets out of whack. I'm just taking it one at-bat at a time and try to grind it out and do whatever I can in whatever situation possible."

Before the home run, Napoli had struck out twice and grounded into a double play, dropping him to 2-for-18 against the Angels this season, the team he played for in his first five years in the majors. Napoli thoroughly dominated the Angels after he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays after the 2010 season for Vernon Wells and then shipped to the Texas Rangers.

In the first two full seasons since leaving Los Angeles, Napoli batted .396 against his former club with 12 home runs in 111 at-bats. Getting Napoli untracked can only mean better things for a Red Sox team that leads the league with 54 victories.

"Any time you get one of the regulars swinging the bat well, it's going to lengthen out the lineup," Farrell said.