CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Indians infielder/designated hitter Mike Napoli is all about winning, and winning the team has done in his first year along the North Coast.
The Indians are just three wins away from a World Series Championship, and manager Terry Francona attributes part of the success to the influence Napoli has had on a clubhouse built around young talent in the infield, behind the plate, patrolling the outfield and on the mound.
“You can’t go to a World Series on your own, especially in our game, but there is more to it than that with him,” Francona said. “He’s had a huge impact in where we are this year, more than just the numbers. The numbers are really good, but all of the other things aren’t overstated.
“We were fortunate enough to have Jason Giambi here for two years, even to the point where he didn’t play very much. He would get a big hit every once in a while, but just his presence in our organization was so helpful. And then, Napoli comes, and sometimes, you just get lucky along the way where you get pretty special people and you try to take advantage of it.”
Napoli is one of those players Francona is particularly proud of because above all else, he does whatever is necessary to win games.
Napoli has platooned at first base and DH with Carlos Santana, and still managed to collect 133 hits, including 22 doubles and 34 home runs. Those 34 home runs were the most ever in a single season by an Indians player over the age of 34.
Additionally, Napoli proved to be a motivating factor for Santana, who had a 31-double, 34-home run season, his most productive year in Major League Baseball.
Also, Napoli has shown off an ability run the bases effectively, stealing a base in an American League Division Series win against the Boston Red Sox.
“Spring Training, he had a couple of good reads and he went first to third, and once to second when the ball was in front of the catcher,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said of Napoli’s commitment to winning. “Him being a catcher, he understands how difficult it is for a catcher to block the ball, to try to find the baseball and then, throw to the base.
“He’s pretty good at reading the track of the ball. He sees whenever there is a breaking ball. He sees when it goes up. He knows when it’s going to bounce, and he just takes off.”
To Lindor, Napoli’s commitment to doing the little things well shows just how deep his desire to succeed is when he takes the field.
“He’s smart,” Lindor said. “He’s been around for a while. He’s a smart player. He wants to win. He wants to win, and he’ll do whatever it takes to win. By him reading the track of the baseball, seeing when he’s going to block the ball, he just takes off.
“Nobody really expects it until you see him like almost about to start diving to second base. It’s like, ‘Oh, my God! He stole second.’ It’s cool watching him do it. It motivates me to be a better base runner.”