ST. LOUIS — If they didn't have to, there would be no reason for the Boston Red Sox to create a lineup without Mike Napoli in it.
But as the World Series restarts with Game 3 Saturday in St. Louis, where National League rules apply and there's no designated hitter, that's just what the Red Sox will be doing. Napoli will be on the bench — a 23-homer, 92-RBI pinch hitter waiting for his moment.
Boston had to choose between usual DH David Ortiz and Napoli, their usual first baseman. As good as Napoli has been for the Red Sox — he has two homers and six RBIs in the postseason too, including a three-run double in Game 1 — Ortiz has been even better. He's homered in both World Series games, giving him a total of five in the postseason to go along with 12 RBIs. He has 17 career postseason homers, tied for seventh all-time.
Simply put: There's no way Big Papi is going to sit as long as he's healthy, even if he only played six games at first base all season.
"I know what to do out there, trust me." Ortiz said Friday about playing first base.
Defense is secondary in this conversation, because the real issue is that the Red Sox lose a huge bat. Napoli is one of only three player to homer this postseason for the Red Sox.
Napoli has caught in the past, but not this season. A hip injury has moved him out of the catcher's position, probably for good. Red Sox manager John Farrell said earlier this week that putting Napoli at catcher isn't an option.
"We wouldn't do that," Farrell said. "One or the other is going to sit, unfortunately."
On Thursday, after naming Ortiz the starting first baseman, Farrell spun the positive — a better bench.
"There's no question our bench is going to be more involved in these next three games," he said. "It's one of the reasons why I think we've achieved the success we have throughout the course of the year. We haven't had to use it as much with the number of days off and strictly American League rules. But even if we have to defend for David late with Mike Napoli, we've got much more flexibility, obviously, with an added guy on the bench."
Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, not starting in Game 3 either, said he didn't think not having a DH would put more pressure on the rest of the lineup to produce.
"Interleague play this year, 14-6 record," Gomes says. "I think we'll be OK with it. They got a good bench too, but I don't think they have a Napoli or Papi coming off theirs. We'll take the challenge and run with it."
As much as the Red Sox can talk about their improved bench, this still swings to the advantage of St. Louis. Jake Peavy, Boston's Game 3 pitcher, spent a lot of time in the National League and has hit two homers and driven in 27 runs since 2002. That's pretty good — but he's not Mike Napoli.
And Cardinals Game 3 starter Joe Kelly knows that.
"I wouldn't say I'm happy that one of them is not going to be in the lineup," Kelly said. "But it probably takes a little bit off their very, very powerful lineup, just power‑wise."
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