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Mike Napoli finding Fenway to his liking

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  April 23, 2013 12:14 AM

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For years, the Red Sox have searched for hitters with a swing that could best take advantage of the quirky dimensions at Fenway Park.

It is a quest that has met with varying degrees of success. In December 2010, when the Red Sox obtained Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres, they were positive he would flourish in Boston because of his history of hitting the ball powerfully to the opposite field.

Gonzalez hit .334 in two seasons at Fenway but only 19 of his hits were home runs before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The first baseman who replaced him, Mike Napoli, arrived with similar hopes. He was a .306 hitter at Fenway in his career with seven home runs, one every 8.9 at-bats.

Gonzalez left Boston muttering about the left field wall being too high for his line drives. But Napoli, who swings with a determined uppercut, seems to like it just fine.

Napoli’s grand slam over the wall in the fifth inning was the decisive hit Monday night as the Red Sox beat the Oakland Athletics, 9-6.

Napoli’s five RBIs gave him a major league-best 25 in 19 games for the Sox. He is 11 of 36 at Fenway this season with five doubles, two home runs, and 12 RBIs in 10 games.

Manny Ramirez, a hitter who flourished at Fenway, holds the team record with 31 RBIs in April. With seven games left, Napoli has a shot at it.

Napoli’s 14 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs are the most for a Red Sox player through 19 games going back to at least 1916.

“He’s doing exactly what we hoped he would do. It’s great to see that production in the middle of the order,” manager John Farrell said. “I’d hate to think where we’d be without him.”

Also:

• The fourth inning may have been an important one for slumping Will Middlebrooks, who hit a three-run homer with the Sox down 2-1. The third baseman had been 4 of his previous 44 with one RBI. But this time he belted a hanging slider and it quickly disappeared into the Monster seats.

“I’m still not where I want to be. But I felt like I put some better swings on balls today and stuck with my approach,” Middlebrooks said.

Middlebrooks now has five home runs and 10 RBIs on the season. Perhaps the buzz cut he got before the game changed his luck.

“I guess so,” he said. “I’m going to tip the barber a little better. I wore different shoes. I ate different. Anything you can think, I tried to flip-flop.”

• The 113 pitches Felix Doubront threw were a carer high as he got into the seventh inning. He had a stat-sheet filling night (3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 8 K, 2 WP) but got the job done with help from Junichi Tazawa, who left two runners stranded in the eighth inning after Clayton Mortensen faltered.

• Jonny Gomes spent the afternoon with his wife, Kristi, and joined the team just before game time. The couple had a daughter, Capri, on Monday.

• Six Watertown police officers were introduced after the third inning and received a thunderous ovation from a crowd appreciative of their bravery in the recent crisis.

• Napoli’s grand slam was the first for the Red Sox against Oakland since Sept. 5, 2000 when Manny Alexander connected off Kevin Appier.

• Jacoby Ellsbury has hit safely in 12 straight games, the longest active streak in the AL.

• Dustin Pedroia was 0 for 5, ending a streak of 28-games of reaching base safely dating to last season.

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