TORONTO -- Mike Napoli rarely misses a party. This is known to be true. So it was hardly a surprise when he decidedly burst on to the scene Monday evening, his tardiness quickly excused.The slumping slugger woke from his slumber with might, with everyone in his wake hurriedly reminded of
TORONTO -- Mike Napoli rarely misses a party. This is known to be true. So it was hardly a surprise when he decidedly burst on to the scene Monday evening, his tardiness quickly excused.
The slumping slugger woke from his slumber with might, with everyone in his wake hurriedly reminded of his game-changing power as the Indians grabbed a 3-0 American League Championship Series lead in a 4-2 win. Napoli's first stroke, a first-inning double to right-center field that brought in the first run of Game 3, was more than just a tease of what was to come on another night the Indians ruled.
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"There was almost this little relief of, yes, Napoli's back," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "We never lost him. He was having good at-bats, just had nothing to show for it. But he doubles in that first at-bat, and you just know he's back."
Back he was, with a monster of a home run he lifted with ease over the center-field wall in the fourth, again victimizing Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman to again put the Indians on top. The moonshot put a 2-1 lead in Cleveland's pockets, and a relentless Tribe, despite needing to call on seven different pitchers by night's end, is one win from its first American League pennant in 19 years.
The Indians have yet to lose in this postseason, claiming victory in all six tries -- even with Napoli quiet in most of them.
The 11-year veteran was virtually invisible before Monday, carrying over a late-season slump in the most inopportune of times. The Indians kept rolling, Napoli kept stalling, his lumps masked by the Tribe's continuous mastery on the mound.
Cleveland's cleanup man, who totaled 34 home runs and 101 RBIs -- both career highs -- during the regular season, was mired in a 2-for-18 slump by the time he stepped to the plate for the first time Monday.
"You know at any moment the ball can go over any part of the ballpark wall," Indians outfielder Coco Crisp said. "Those are the things you expect from those guys, almost unfortunately, the things you expect from him."
Napoli, 34, proved why -- and in doing so became just the fifth player to homer with four teams in the postseason, joining Ron Gant, John Olerud, Reggie Sanders and Russell Martin, while counting off the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox and now the Indians as teams to witness it. In all, he has eight postseason home runs to his name.
But there was this: the slugger's last homer before Monday came on Sept. 16, marking the middle of a forgettable month that saw him flounder to the tune of a .140 average, and Napoli, no stranger to such stretches, found assurance in one long-standing cliché, telling reporters Sunday evening he felt he was just one swing away from helping the Tribe.
"It's how I've been my whole career," Napoli said after Monday's win. "I've gone through some pretty long slumps. I've gone through some long hot streaks. And it's just who I am. I'm a grinder. It doesn't matter if I do good or bad, the next day I come here to work. We were up 2-0, so I wasn't feeling so bad. But to be able to contribute and help us win tonight, it feels good."
Napoli drew assistance in the first from Toronto right-fielder José Bautista, who watched the well-struck ball go in and out of his glove before bounding off the wall for an RBI double. Per Statcast™, the line drive had a hang time of 5.4 seconds and was projected to land 81 feet from Bautista -- a combination of numbers that produced an out 98 percent of the time this year.
Napoli had been without a hit in his previous 25 at-bats against right-handers. His teammates erupted. Then they were downright giddy in the fourth -- as was the slugger himself -- and again in the sixth when Jason Kipnis sent him home on a two-run homer.
"He's a happy guy when we're winning," Lindor said. "He's not so happy when we're not winning. That's a guy that wants to win, and he'll do whatever it takes to win."
Jane Lee has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2010.