- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- The name gave Mike Napoli pause.
“Hack Wilson?” he repeated. “Sounds familiar.’’
But no, he said, he couldn’t place it.
“190 RBIs,’’ a visitor said. “Hack Wilson drove in 190 runs in 1930. The major-league record.’’
“No, no, no,’’ Napoli said, as if warding off a ghost. “One day at a time. I don’t like looking at stats.’’
“That’s funny,’’ he said.
On Monday night, Napoli drove in five runs with a second-inning double and a fifth-inning grand slam, both off Oakland pitcher A.J. Griffin, who had lost just once in 18 previous career starts in the big leagues.
Napoli has 25 RBIs in the team’s first 19 games. He leads the majors. In the last 71 years, Mo Vaughn is the only Sox player besides Napoli to match that number in the same number of games. That was in 1995. Mo was the American League MVP that year.
The Sox have seven games left in April. Manny Ramirez holds the club record for RBIs for the month with 31. He did that in 2001, his first season with the club.
Projected over the course of a 162-game season, Napoli would finish with 213 RBIs, making hash of Hack. He’s not going to maintain that pace for six months, but there’s no harm in trying, is there?
“I’d love it,’’ Will Middlebrooks said. “There’s no one we would rather see up with men on base.’’
“And there’s no one left for me to drive in,’’ he said.
Napoli, you remember, spent a good part of his winter trying to learn not only whether a degenerative hip condition, which had yet to show any symptoms but was detected during a physical administered by the Sox, would allow him to play. Play? He wanted to know what his chances were down the road of being able to walk and play with his kids, as yet unborn.
Those fears may yet be present, but they have been overshadowed by the way Napoli has hit with men on base. Nobody on, and he hasn’t hit a lick. He struck out in his only two at-bats Monday with the bases unoccupied, dropping him below the Mendoza line (.193, 6-for-31) with no one on.
But inhabit the bases, and Napoli is transformed. Monday night in the fifth inning was the sixth time he has come to the plate with the bases loaded. His grand slam was his fourth hit, along with two doubles and a single, all of which have produced a total of 11 runs.
With runners in scoring position, Napoli is batting .379 (10-for-27). In his first three weeks with the Sox, he has almost half as many runs as he drove in all of last season (56), when he was plagued with leg issues that originated with the badly dislocated ankle he sustained during the 2011 World Series.
“Last year I was up and down,’’ he said. “I didn’t feel like this last year. I’m trying to keep my routine the same, have the same feeling every day, see what happens.’’
So far, what has happened has exceeded anyone’s fondest expectations. The inning before the grand slam, Napoli was hit in his right arm, his back arm, by a fastball from Griffin.
“It got inside my biceps,’’ he said. “I never got hit there before. My arm went numb. It kind of freaked me out a little, but I got the feeling back. It’s sore, but I was able to go on.’’
Numb one moment, electrifying the next, as he drove a low serving from Griffin into the Monster seats in left center, a fan in the first row catching it on the fly.
“Just trying to get a job done,’’ Napoli said, a slugger as unassuming as they come. “I try to stay within myself, don’t waste an at-bat with guys in scoring position.’’
Waste? He’s a one-man recycling operation. Who knows, years from now someone may approach another RBI machine who will say, “Mike Napoli? The name sounds familiar.’’