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Napoli leading by example

JOHN FARRELL Went 81-81 with Toronto this year JOHN FARRELL Went 81-81 with Toronto this year
By Nick Cafardo
October 24, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas - Hey, Ryan Lavarnway, watch all the video you can of Rangers catcher Mike Napoli. You can be Napoli, or a suitable facsimile.

If you can, the Red Sox are going to have a real threat at the catcher position.

Napoli was discarded by the Angels when he couldn’t live up to manager Mike Scioscia’s demands. The Angels stuck with Jeff Mathis, considered a far superior receiver, and traded Napoli.

The bearded Napoli had a good defensive season away from Scioscia’s scrutiny and certainly benefited from Rangers Ballpark, where the ball carries well.

“Not sure Lavarnway has Napoli’s type of power, but we’re talking about a similar player,’’ said one National League scout who is well versed in both players. “Lavarnway may be a better pure hitter and Napoli has more pure power, and obviously has the major league pedigree. Boston would be lucky if Lavarnway turns out like Napoli.’’

Napoli blasted a three-run homer in the sixth inning last night to break open Game 4 for the Rangers, who beat the Cardinals, 4-0, and tied the World Series, 2-2. Napoli, who caught Derek Holland’s impressive outing (8 1/3 innings, two hits), was batting eighth.

“It was about Holland and Napoli tonight,’’ Texas manager Ron Washington said. “They worked so outstanding together. They mixed it up good. Nap has done that for us all year. He did a good job of making Holland use and establish all of his pitches. He’s a good receiver and he has a good feel for his pitchers and what they need to do out there on any given night.’’

Napoli’s homer came after Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson had walked his sixth and seventh batters of the night. After a pitching change, Napoli stepped in against righty reliever Mitchell Boggs.

One pitch.

Gone.

Way up into the first deck, on a beautiful uppercut power swing, Napoli got all of it. He often does. Some of his home runs have been among the longest in baseball this season.

“I knew Boggs had a good sinker. In that situation he’s probably trying to get a double-play ball. I was looking for something up and kind of had an idea they were probably going to try to pound me in, and I just got a pitch I could handle,’’ Napoli said.

Napoli had one of those very under-the-radar seasons. Not many know that he had a 1.046 OPS, a .320 average with 30 homers and 75 RBIs in 113 games. He caught 61 games, played 35 at first, and 18 as the designated hitter. The combination worked splendidly.

“What Mike Napoli did tonight is what we’ve seen all year from him. Derek Holland never got out of control and you can lay that on Mike,’’ Washington said.

Napoli thought Holland was effective because “we established his secondary pitches early on. He never got out of control.’’

Holland said Napoli has truly impacted his season, last night included.

“Well, me and him, we both have a very strong chemistry with each other,’’ Holland said. “We hang out off the field, and on the field. We talk all the time and pick each other’s brains and talk about our approach to certain hitters and what to do.

“He does a real good job of controlling my emotions, making sure I don’t get ahead of myself,’’ Holland said. “You probably saw a couple of times he was telling me to square up. Essentially, in between innings, there were a couple of times I’d throw the ball and I wasn’t throwing it where I wanted to. So he was keeping me in check, basically.’’

Napoli, who turns 30 on Halloween, was part of two trades in a five-day span last January. The Angels traded him and Juan Rivera to Toronto for Vernon Wells. The Jays then flipped him to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco.

Think either team would want those deals back?

Former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein often made the comparison between Lavarnway and Napoli. Boston has always liked Napoli’s swing - which seems perfectly suited for Fenway Park - and if the team had not re-signed David Ortiz or if a deal for Adrian Gonzalez had fallen through, there’s a good chance Napoli would have been brought in as a DH/1B/catcher.

The Red Sox, and other teams who have followed Napoli’s career, have been surprised that “he’s actually been a defensive asset,’’ according to one Sox official.

Napoli seemed to set out to prove the baseball world, and Scioscia in particular, that they were wrong about him.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, after being beaten by a Napoli homer in the American League Division Series, said, “This is the year of the Napoli.’’

“That was a nice thing for Joe to say,’’ Napoli said. “I had a good year. I put a lot of hard work in and things have been working out for me.’’

Last night, Napoli certainly continued that very good year.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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