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Back on big stage, Napoli delivers once again

Red Sox first baseman continues to excel in World Series play

BOSTON -- Mike Napoli was asked about getting payback against the team that ruined his World Series dreams just two Octobers ago, and the Red Sox first baseman took the high road.

"It doesn't have anything to do with anything," Napoli said, "just trying to win a World Series."

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Oh, but it's there. It has to be.

"I know I would have a little chip on my shoulder, being one out away from being a World Series champion and not getting it," teammate Shane Victorino said. "For him, I'm sure it sits there. For me it would."

Napoli's Rangers were on the cusp of closing out the Cardinals in six games of the 2011 World Series, and he was right in line to be named Most Valuable Player before Texas lost Game 6 and dropped Game 7. He got another chance against the Cards on Wednesday night -- on a new team, with a new position -- and wasted little time, his first-inning three-run double giving the Red Sox the three-run lead that set the tone in an 8-1 win in Game 1.

In eight career World Series games -- all coming against these Cardinals -- Napoli is 8-for-23 with two doubles, two homers and 13 RBIs while hitting safely in six straight games, matching Derek Jeter for the longest current streak among active players.

"I think it's just the way it worked out," Napoli said, after his only hit in four at-bats was the only one that mattered. "I love this stage. It's in the spotlight. I really enjoy this time of year, I guess."

Napoli came to bat after Pete Kozma committed the game's most crucial error, dropping second baseman Matt Carpenter's feed to spoil a tailor-made double play and load the bases with one out in the first. On a 2-0 count against Adam Wainwright, whom Napoli had never faced, he got a chest-high fastball and drove it into left-center to give the Red Sox all the runs they would need.

"Bases loaded, I'm just trying to get the ball up in the air to the outfield in that situation," Napoli said after doing so much more.

"I threw a horrible pitch and he hit it in the gap," Wainwright said. "That's what great hitters do -- they hit horrible pitches hard. You can say what you want to about the play at second base, but if I don't go out there and throw the ball in the middle of the plate, we probably get out of that inning."

And if Napoli doesn't provide the big hit, perhaps it's a totally different game.

Two years ago, though, Napoli did it all and it mattered little.

He went 7-for-20 with two homers and 10 RBIs as Texas' catcher in 2011, joining Mickey Mantle (1960) as the only player to have four multi-RBI games in the same World Series. He was so hot that he drew three walks (one intentional) in Game 6.

But he lost. The Cardinals -- particularly David Freese -- ripped his heart out. And it hurt. And it's a pretty big deal to get another shot just two years later -- even if Napoli won't admit it.

"We have a pretty unique group here of world champs with rings," left fielder Jonny Gomes said, "and on the flip side of that, veteran guys like myself and Nap, other guys, on the utmost pedal-to-the-medal grind for that ring. He's one of them. He's on it, and you saw it tonight."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.

Boston Red Sox, Mike Napoli