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THE DIARIES

Trot Nixon's walk-off homer
keeps the Red Sox alive in the 2003 ALDS

ON THIS DATE (October 4, 2003) ... It's easy to believe that church bells in some New England towns were ringing at 11:18 last night just as they did when Fisk hit his home run for the ages in the immortal sixth game of the 1975 World Series.

Nixon's parabolic, pinch-hit blast into Fenway's center-field bleachers gave the Red Sox a 3-1, 11th-inning, 24th-hour, controversy-spiced, walkoff win over the Oakland A's in the third game of their American League Division Series. It was one of the more remarkable postseason games in the 103-year history of the Red Sox, but mirrored many of the fantastic finishes that marked Boston's 2003 campaign.

The A's lead the best-of-five series, 2 games to 1, but after a night in which they made four errors and committed two grievous base-running mistakes, they may have some ghosts of their own to shed after failing to close out the Sox. After Derek Lowe held the A's to an unearned run in seven innings, Mike Timlin, in a three-inning stint that was his longest of the season, and Scott Williamson set down the last dozen A's batters in order. Little had Pedro Martinez warming up before the ninth; had the Sox taken the lead, he would have been called upon to pitch.

Nixon, who did not start against A's lefthander Ted Lilly, decided mid-game to emulate many of his teammates and shear his locks. More importantly, he took some swings with a Wiffle Ball bat against the offerings of assistant trainer Chang Lee to be ready when called upon. That summons from Little came in the 11th, after a one-out single by Doug Mirabelli, who had entered the game when catcher Jason Varitek was lifted for a pinch runner in the ninth. Nixon batted for Gabe Kapler and connected off the fifth A's pitcher of the night, rookie Rich Harden. His drive to dead center field left A's center fielder Eric Byrnes leaning disconsolately against the wall as it landed in the first two rows of the bleachers. after a one-out single by Mirabelli.

The Sox won despite going 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, the heart of the order, Bill Mueller, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz, combining to go 0 for 13 last night. Of the three, Ortiz was the only one to get the ball out of the infield, lining out to center in the sixth. Ortiz is hitless in 13 at-bats in the series, Ramirez is 1 for 12 (and was booed), while Mueller is 2 for 14.

Even though the A's made four errors in the first four innings, including three in the second inning, and two A's base runners were called out at home, both for stopping short of touching the plate, through six innings the only run the Sox were able to score came on an interference call against Eric Chavez, Oakland's Gold Glove third baseman. It came during a rundown play in which the trapped Sox runner, Varitek, smartly threw a forearm into Chavez and was judged the innocent victim.

Varitek also was the central figure in a play that cost the A's a run, when Byrnes, attempting to score from third on Miguel Tejada's tapper in front of the plate in the sixth inning, was sent sprawling when Varitek stuck his left shinguard in Byrnes's path. Byrnes, wincing in pain, shoved Varitek in retaliation as the Sox catcher hustled to retrieve the errant throw by pitcher Derek Lowe, which was rolling toward the screen. In his anger and agony, Byrnes neglected to take care of business, namely, to go and tag home plate. Varitek, ignoring Byrnes's shove, tagged the A's center fielder out and pumped his fist in triumph.

After an intentional walk to Chavez, the A's eventually scored the tying run when Ramon Hernandez's slow bouncer skipped under the glove of Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who was charged with a tough error. Erubiel Durazo, who had walked and advanced to third on Lowe's throwing error to the plate, scored to make it 1-1, and Tejada thought he had free passage to the plate when he collided with Sox third baseman Bill Mueller, who had retreated to the bag and bumped Tejada off stride. Obstruction by Mueller? Absolutely, according to third base umpire Bill Welke, who immediately pointed at Mueller for the offense. But in a mental breakdown as costly as the one committed by Byrnes only moments before, Tejada quit running on the play, assuming he'd been awarded the plate.

The A's came back in the seventh to load the bases on consecutive singles by Mark Ellis, Terrence Long, and Byrnes, who beat out an 0- and-2 infield roller to short with the base runners on the move. But Lowe survived, Billy McMillon lining out to second baseman Damian Jackson and Durazo hitting a liner directly at center fielder Johnny Damon.

Somehow, A's lefthander Ted Lilly, who like Lowe allowed just an unearned run in seven innings, remained oblivious to his teammates' misplays and the sing-song chant of "Lil-ly, Lil-ly," inspired by five Sox reserves who stood on the top step of the Sox dugout with letters spelling the pitcher's name taped to their backs. The players involved included Mirabelli and Lou Merloni, a frat-like stunt certain to invite a negative reaction from A's players.

The Sox, meanwhile, hope that the A's not only saw the handwriting on their backs, but some handwriting on the wall. This much is certain, there's at least one more chapter to be written in this one.

 

 



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2003 ALDS, Game #3

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W-Scott Williamson (1-0)
L-Rich Harden (1-1)
Attendance 35,460

 2B-Damon (Bost)

 HR-Nixon (Bost)