Now that’s a home run Trot.
Pinch hitter Trot Nixon drilled a two-run home run to the center-field bleachers off Rich Harden in the 11th inning to give the Red Sox a 3-1 win over the Oakland A’s in Game 3 of their Division Series last night, prolonging Boston’s season at least another day.
John Burkett takes the hill today at 1 p.m. against Oakland ace Tim Hudson as the Red Sox try to force a do-or-die Game 5 in Oakland, Calif., tomorrow.
With one out, Doug Mirabelli poked a single to right, setting the stage for Nixon, who has been hampered by a left calf strain and had been hitless in three at-bats in this Division Series.
Nixon couldn’t have picked a better time to collect his first hit. Prior to Nixon’s blast, the biggest hero for the Red Sox was the relief corps. The much-maligned bullpen took over for Derek Lowe and didn’t allow a hit over the final four innings, the first three by Mike Timlin, the last by Scott Williamson, the winner.
On the brink of extinction, the Red Sox were offered everything short of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by the bumbling- beyond-belief A’s and, in one bizarre sequence, by an umpiring crew that inspired even baseball commissioner Bud Selig to place a call demanding an explanation.
After nine innings, nothing was decided as the game went extra frames tied at 1-1.
But even though the A’s made four errors in the first four innings, including three in the second, and two Oakland 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, during a rundown in which the trapped Sox runner, Jason 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 Eric 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 Lowe, which was rolling toward the backstop.
In his anger and agony, Byrnes neglected to take care of business namely, to tag the 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 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.
Wrong. Citing rule 7.06 (b), Welke made the judgment that Tejada would not necessarily have scored on the play, a rather remarkable conclusion given Tejada’s speed and the softness with which the ball was hit. A’s manager Ken Macha argued vehemently for several minutes with the entire umpiring crew, including crew chief Ed Montague.
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 to second baseman Damian Jackson and Durazo hitting a liner directly at center fielder Johnny Damon.
Somehow, A’s lefthander Ted Lilly remained oblivious to his teammates misplays and the chant of “Lil-ly, Lil-ly, inspired by five Sox reserves who stood on the top step of the dugout with letters spelling the pitcher’s name taped to their backs. The players involved included catcher Doug Mirabelli, Andy Abad, Lou Merloni, and David McCarty, a frat-like stunt that was certain to invite reaction from A’s players after the game. Lilly gave up a leadoff double to Damon and walked Garciaparra in the first, then struck out the next three hitters - Mueller, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz. Mueller swung through a 92-mile-per-hour fastball down the middle. Ramirez and Ortiz both chased fastballs out of the strike zone.
Lilly’s composure was subjected to its fiercest test in the second inning, which began with Millar beating out an infield hit to Chavez. Varitek hit a double-play grounder to shortstop Tejada, but when Tejada tried to sneak a peek at second, to see if he could make the play himself or flip to second baseman Ellis, he bobbled the ball, and everyone was safe.
Gabe Kapler followed with a grounder to Chavez, who stepped on third, then bounced his throw to first baseman Scott Hatteberg for an error, Varitek advancing to third.
Chavez would then make yet another error after gloving Damian Jackson’s smash down the line. Instead of going to second for what probabloy would have been an easy around-the-horn double play, Chavez elected to get Varitek in a rundown, throwing to Hernandez at the plate. When Hernandez chased Varitek back to the plate, Chavez was in Varitek’s way, and was awarded home plate by Welke for the defensive interference.
But with the Sox in position to put a bigger number on the board, Lilly induced Damon to fly to left and Garciaparra to pop to second. Incredibly, through two innings the Sox were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
By the eighth inning, it became a battle of bullpens.
The Red Sox group was the most impressive. Timlin set down the A’s in order in the eighth, ninth, and 10th. Williamson came on for the 11th and was perfect.