BOSTON -- Oct. 27, 2011. The Texas Rangers, one strike away from the first World Series title in franchise history, had closer Neftali Feliz on the mound to seal the deal in Game 6, up 7-5. But the St. Louis Cardinals had other plans, rallying to force extra innings before winning in the 11th.
Game 7 one night later saw much less drama, as the Cardinals defeated the Rangers 6-2 to win it all. Everything the Rangers had worked for was gone. And the incredible performance by catcher Mike Napoli was all for naught.
"They took a world championship away from me," Napoli said. "But it doesn't have anything to do with anything [now], just trying to win a World Series."
Napoli hit .350 (7-for-20) in seven games for the Rangers during that series, driving in 10 of the team's 30 runs and blasting two home runs on his way to what most likely would have been a World Series MVP trophy. Now, two years later, Napoli is back in the World Series with the Red Sox, facing the Cardinals once more and coming up big once again with a three-run double in Boston's 8-1 Game 1 win.
"No, not really," Napoli said when asked if the Cardinals' 2011 elimination of the Rangers still played in his mind. "The main thing was trying to get back here. I think it's nice to be able to play against them."
Stepping into the box with the bases loaded against Adam Wainwright (who was injured during the 2011 World Series) in the first inning Wednesday night, Napoli lined a 2-0 pitch past Cardinals center fielder Shane Robinson to clear the bases and stake Boston to an early three-run lead. The runs proved to be the difference as St. Louis managed just one ninth-inning run.
"It is a pretty big swing moment, even though you're not fully expecting something like that in the first inning," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Fortunately, he gets into a 2-0 count and the three-run double, it's a big moment."
Napoli has come up big several times for the Red Sox in the postseason so far, driving in the only run of a 1-0 victory over Justin Verlander on a home run in Game 3 of the ALCS and leading off the second inning of Game 5 two nights later with a 460-foot monster home run to center field off Anibal Sanchez. Overall, the first baseman is hitting .243 with six RBIs in 11 postseason games.
"Particularly in Detroit and every game since, he's been right in the middle of a lot of our multirun innings," Farrell said. "We ride some peaks and valleys with him. He's got some streakiness to his career path, and when he's in the good side of those streaks, he's had the ability to carry us, and he's doing that right now."
Napoli isn't concerned with being labeled as streaky. The 31-year-old said that grinding through every at-bat is his goal when he steps in the batter's box, regardless of the result of his previous at-bat.
As for his success at the plate in the World Series?
"I love this stage. It's in the spotlight. I really enjoy this time of the year," Napoli said. "It's just going out there and getting the job done."