Will Middlebrooks was looking for some kind of change that would produce the alchemy necessary to shake his slump. He got a haircut and changed his spikes, but in retrospect, the third baseman suggested, he probably should have paid closer attention to the man who sits at the locker to his left.
The right move, Middlebrooks realized, probably would have been to do away with the top few buttons of his jersey in imitation of Mike Napoli, the man whose run production has helped to sustain the Red Sox' winning ways in the early weeks of the season. So why didn't he?
"I don't have any cool chains, so I figured I'd just cut my hair. Now I have to grow my beard, though," Middlebrooks mused after the Red Sox' 9-6 win over the A's. "Just trying to be like Mike."
So much for Air Jordan as the iconic Mike. And why not?
After all, when Napoli steps to the plate, he more closely resembles Thor swinging a bludgeoning hammer than he does a baseball player. On Monday night, as the highlight of a 2-for-4 night on which he reached base three times and drove in five, Napoli dropped his back leg Adrian Beltre-style and destroyed a fastball from A's starter A.J. Griffin, sending it screaming over the far reaches of the Wall in left-center for a grand slam.
"It's a good hip flexor stretch. If I ever need a good stretch I'll do the Napoli swing," Middlebrooks said with a grin. "Back knee as low as it can go, see how much of an uppercut swing I can do."
To appreciate how hard he hit the ball, Middlebrooks noted, one needs to take stock of the bitter conditions that existed during the game. The temperature at first pitch of 43 degrees suggested a night when the ball had no carry; Stephen Drew crushed a ball that ordinarily clears the bullpen but instead faded on the warning track. Meanwhile, a pop-up hit by the Sox' third baseman offered evidence of how hard the wind was blowing back in toward the plate.
Middlebrooks at one point hit a fly ball to left. A's outfielder Chris Young initially took a step back, then started sprinting ... and sprinting ... and sprinting toward the infield as a result of the ball's altered trajectory. Eventually, the ball ticked off the tip of his glove (though Young salvaged the play by recovering the ball and throwing out Daniel Nava at second for a force play).
"My pop-up, that ball is like back on the track most days, and it's landing right behind shortstop," noted Middlebrooks.
So how did Napoli manage to render the elements irrelevant? Enter the swing of Thor.
"It's intense. It's fierce. He's not going to get cheated," said Middlebrooks. "It's unreal the kind of bat speed he has, and he swings a 35-inch bat. It's not small. He's strong. He's just really strong and works hard."
"Powerful. Damaging," pitcher Ryan Dempster suggested of Napoli's swing. "He's got like that rooftop swing. I think that's a pretty good way to put it. He's got the rooftop swing."
"Bad [expletive]," David Ortiz noted admiringly. "Very powerful. Put that in the book -- bad [expletive]."
It was easy to focus on the home run over the Green Monster and to conclude that Napoli is responding favorably to his new home hitting environment. After all, when the Sox made him their foremost target this offseason, they did so with the knowledge that he'd enjoyed as much success as any active player at Fenway Park, with a .306 average, a colossal 1.107 OPS and just 8.9 at-bats per home run in Boston.
Undoubtedly, all of those numbers caught the attention of the Red Sox when they were shopping this winter for the right person to play first and slide into the middle of their order.
"He's got a long track record of extra base and RBI production, but what he's done in this ballpark over the course of his career, those things are beacons when you look to select a player, and he's a very good fit here," said Sox manager John Farrell.
Still, to suggest that the loft he generates with his "rooftop swing" makes him a made-for-Fenway hitter who can take advantage of the proximity of the left field wall -- without concern for its height -- does something of a disservice to the 31-year-old's ability to impact the ball to all fields.
In that respect, in many ways, members of the Sox were more impressed by Napoli's second-inning RBI double down the right field than they were by the homer. Griffin threw a fastball, low and away; Napoli offered a textbook example of barreling a ball precisely where it had been thrown and sending a rocket into the far reaches of the opposite field.
"What he does best is drive the ball to right field," noted hitting coach Greg Colbrunn. "With his career numbers, you look at Fenway and what he's done here, but he goes well the other way. He's got tremendous raw power. Sometimes you go back, watch some of the home runs he's hit to right field, right-center, it's uncanny pop, especially the other way. Then left field, left-center field, there's a lot of force coming through the zone."
The approach is one that makes life unpleasant for opposing pitchers. Napoli's power allows him to drive pitches away or stay up the middle, while his bat speed permits him the ability to unload on pitches inside. Where to attack him when he's hot? There's not an easy answer.
"I don't know that there's any one way you can pitch him consistently, and he's got not only a good approach but he's able to pick out certain pitches and look to attack," said Farrell. "I'd hate to think where we'd be without him."
That panic-stricken possibility nearly entered into the thinking of the Sox. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Napoli was drilled by a 90 mph fastball on the inside of his right arm, just above the elbow and on the inside of the arm. He crouched in pain as Farrell and a trainer hustled to examine the slugger.
"It got me like in the inside of my bicep, it was weird, I never got hit there before. And my arm went numb, so I was kind of freaking out a little bit," acknowledged Napoli. "I got the feeling back. It's sore but I was able to keep going."
The feeling in his arm is not the only one that Napoli reclaimed. Two years removed from the best season of his career -- a 2011 campaign with the Rangers in which he hit .320 with a .414 OBP, .631 slugging mark and 1.046 OPS along with 30 homers in 113 games -- Napoli suggests that he has reconnected with that career-best standard.
"Last year I really was up and down, I didn't really feel like this last year. [In] 2011, this is how I felt in the second half of the year," said Napoli. "I'm just trying to keep my routine the same, have that same feeling every day and see what happens."
Through 19 games, Napoli is hitting .278 with a .321 on-base percentage (lower than his career norm) but a whopping 14 extra-base hits (nine doubles, a triple and four homers) -- tied for the most in the majors -- along with a major league-leading 25 RBIs.
On a team that was without David Ortiz through its first 15 games, Napoli has been offering the lone source of consistent thump, proving a game-changing presence on a team that has yet to hit its offensive stride.
Indeed, while Napoli suggests that he feels as if he's performing to his 2011 standard, a case can be made that, in the early stages of this year, he's impacting his team in a fashion that exceeds even that season based on the fact that, as a full-time first baseman, he's now playing every day as opposed to being in the lineup roughly two out of every three contests as a Rangers catcher.
Napoli suggests that, in the absence of the physical pounding of catching, he's able to have greater game-to-game consistency as a hitter.
"It's definitely helping physically. My body feels better. I don't have to mentally worry about pitches and that whole side," he noted.
Nor, for that matter, has he had to worry about the impact of his degenerative hip condition on his ability to stay on the field. To date, what at one point seemed like a potentially career-threatening concern has been a non-issue.
"I think I got that reassurance in spring training, just running around, letting it go," said Napoli. "That happened a while ago. I'm just out there playing now. I'm free. I don't even really think about it to me anymore."
So what do he and the Red Sox think about? The damage that Napoli is doing in the middle of the lineup. He's the first Red Sox since at least 1916 with 25 RBIs and 14 extra-base hits in the first 19 games of the season. The first baseman may have dealt with an offseason unlike any other in his career, but in Boston he suggests that he's found precisely what he was looking for.
"It's everything I expected," he said.
The feeling undoubtedly is mutual for the team.