BOSTON – They adore Trot Nixon here, the loyal dirt dog who played a decade in their old brick ballpark, rolling around in the grass and kicking up earth clouds.
And, well, now they've got one more thing to remember him by, for old time's sake.
A few months after they stood and applauded his homecoming, marveling at this odd sight of Nixon in road grays, he stood and delivered the hit that put a pretty serious damper on their run-away World Series delirium.
In the very early hours of Sunday morning, just as weary servers flicked the overhead lights in pubs up and down Boylston Street, their best pal Trot looped a ridiculously soft single into center field. It landed with a gentle thump, sent Grady Sizemore gliding around third base and jarred the Fenway faithful with its direct blow.
Old Trot, old reliable Trot, had turned on them. They probably had expected such, seeing as Trot always had found a way to matter, even hurt, even slumping, even, now, from the end of a bench in Cleveland.
Yet the ballpark went silent. Eric Gagne set it up, Javier Lopez threw the pitch, and Nixon swung the bat, resulting in the first of seven runs in an 11th-inning revival for the Indians, 13-6 winners and even with the Red Sox after two games of the American League championship series.
"You know, for some reason I just felt a calmness out there in the batter's box," Nixon said.
It is a familiar place, that batter's box, the one nearest the Red Sox dugout. And these are familiar sounds, voiced by familiar people. Should the series return – the next three games are in Cleveland – Nixon might not be asked to smile and wave as often.
"I think we all know how a player can cross over to the dark side," he said, grinning.
Yeah, they love him and all, but ball is ball, and the Red Sox had just gone five hours or so, having hit and pitched themselves away from a rather poor Curt Schilling start. The Indians had followed along the same way, watching 19-game winner Fausto Carmona labor through his worst start in months.
But, in their bullpen, they found a way to pitch through the middle of the Red Sox order, and maybe that was where their momentum was born. Right-handers Jensen Lewis, Rafael Betancourt and Tom Mastny kept David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell hitless and off base after the fifth inning, allowing their own offense the five innings necessary to break a 6-6 tie.
By the fifth, those same three hitters had picked up from Game 1, reaching base six times between them, getting four more hits, including two home runs (Ramirez and Lowell back-to-back in the fifth), and driving in six runs.
It has changed the direction of a series that was utterly Red Sox for a game and a half, a postseason that was all Red Sox for a week and a half. Well, that and a pinch-hit single from Nixon, and the eight batters between Casey Blake's two 11th-inning strikeouts.
Gradually marginalized by the more athletic Franklin Gutierrez as the season progressed, Nixon had only 14 at-bats in September. He only batted in the 11th inning because DH Travis Hafner had been replaced by a pinch-runner in the ninth inning, and even then the matchup could have been better. With Gagne melting down again, Terry Francona called upon left-hander Javy Lopez to get after Nixon, who had 11 hits against left-handers all season.
"Under the circumstances for how many pitchers we had gone through," Francona said, "we were actually pretty happy to have a left on left in that situation. It didn't work very well."
Almost none of them did for the Red Sox in the 11th.
Nixon took a changeup for ball one, then got just enough of the next pitch to make his return to Boston worthwhile.
"I didn't really hit it hard," he said on the field afterward, "but it doesn't really matter."
Oh, but it did. The Indians suddenly had survived a night when their No. 2, Carmona, pitched as poorly as their No. 1 – C.C. Sabathia – had the night before. They put together not one but two good-sized offensive innings, the first when Jhonny Peralta hit a three-run home run off Schilling in the fourth.
It was enough to bring Schilling unannounced to the interview room afterward, wearing the loss for his 24 teammates.
"This was all about me coming up small in a big game," said Schilling, who gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings. "It was a game, had I executed, we should have won. We should have won, and they took it from me, which eventually meant they took it from us."
It was a subdued crowd that squeezed through the narrow concourses at Fenway, a quiet ballclub that packed for three games in Cleveland. And it was a confident band of relievers slapping hands in the visitors' clubhouse, as they finally had put an end to the nightly batting practice, finally had challenged the bats that threatened to run them all out of the ALCS.
"You've got to give them all the credit in the world," Indians first baseman Ryan Garko said. "We've had the hardest time getting them out."
And, finally, it was Nixon, old Trot, who made it all meaningful, in the moments after Mastny had pitched through Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell in the 10th.
"That was great," Garko said. "The thing about Trot, even though his playing time has diminished, he's really stepped up his leadership role."
Well, it's not a couple of RBIs a night, but it's something.
It meant something here, for a long time. It meant something Sunday morning.
- Red Sox