By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 14, 2007 3:08 AM
BOSTON, Oct. 13 -- The Cleveland Indians had every force of nature, and perhaps even a few supernatural ones, working against them Saturday night.
The forest green walls of Fenway Park were closing in on them. The dynamic duo in the middle of the Boston Red Sox' lineup was rewriting the record books. As this weekend's events played out, folks across New England were beginning to allow themselves to think their team was another blessed one, another team of destiny -- reminiscent of another Red Sox team, the one from 2004, the curse-breakers, the franchise's first World Series champs in 86 years.
The Indians had to deal with all that and more in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. But then, into the game as a pinch-hitter came the antidote, a man with as legitimate a claim to that 2004 Red Sox legacy as nearly anyone in the building. Trot Nixon silenced 37,051 fans the same way he used to set them aflame when he was one of theirs.
Pinch-hitting in the top of the 11th, Nixon -- the Red Sox's longtime right fielder, now a reserve for the Indians -- singled home Grady Sizemore with the go-ahead run in what became a 13-6 Indians victory at the end of a five-hour, 14-minute marathon. The best-of-seven series is tied at one win apiece, as the whole enterprise shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 on Monday night.
"I think we all know how a player can cross over to the dark side," Nixon said with a smile. "I'm the enemy coming in here. [But] I had some great years here in Boston."
Red Sox relievers Eric Gagne and Javier Lopez needed only a handful of pitches apiece to undo what had been, to that point, a captivating duel of bullpens following the unexpectedly early exits of starters Fausto Carmona and Curt Schilling.
"Both of us had gotten to our bullpens so early, and the bullpens did such a good job getting the game to extra innings," said Red Sox Manager Terry Francona. "You're trying to [prevent] one run. And then the bottom kind of fell out on us. [...] But this was one of the best-played games -- up until the last 15 minutes -- by both teams, as any game I've ever been a part of."
Gagne, the former superstar closer in Los Angeles turned struggling mop-up man in Boston, opened the 11th -- after the Red Sox ran out of relievers they could trust -- but departed after allowing a one-out single to Sizemore and a walk to Asdrubal Cabrera.
Lopez, a lefty, was brought in to face the left-handed-hitting Nixon, who, on a 1-0 pitch, lifted a soft single into shallow center field. The throw from Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp was off line and weak, and Sizemore scored easily. From there things devolved, as first Lopez, then Jon Lester, failed to stop the onslaught in what became a seven-run inning for the Indians.
"I was excited to finally get in there," said Nixon, who signed with the Indians this winter. "It was 1:30 in the morning... For some reason, I felt a calmness out there in the batter's box."
Lopez said, "If anyone knows this ballpark, it's Trot Nixon."
It was unquestionably a game the Indians had to win. Lose, and they would go back to Cleveland down two games to none, with their season riding on the arms of Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd in Games 3 and 4 at Jacobs Field.
And to win this game, they had to do something to stop David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
After reaching base in all 10 of their combined plate appearances in Game 1, Ortiz and Ramirez were at it again Saturday night. Ortiz walked two more times against Indians starter Fausto Carmona, scored a pair of runs and helped set up the Red Sox' three-run fifth inning by beating out a double-play grounder.
Ramirez, meantime, drew his third bases-loaded walk of the series in the third inning -- two more than any other player in history has drawn in a single playoff series -- and followed Ortiz's hustle down the line in the fifth with a two-run homer off Indians lefty Rafael Perez. When Mike Lowell followed with another homer, the Red Sox briefly held a 6-5 lead.
The record of events, and most depictions of the game, will make it seem as if Carmona -- whose nine-inning gem against the New York Yankees in the Division Series announced his emergence as a young ace -- was uncharacteristically wild. He walked five batters and threw nearly as many balls (49) as he did strikes (51). But in truth he pitched exactly like he always does -- with a vicious sinker that begins in the strike zone, then dives at a right-handed hitter's feet -- and he pitched as well as he ever has.
The Red Sox merely wore Carmona down, taking the same shoelace-kissing pitches the Yankees flailed at harmlessly. But Carmona was hardly awful. When Lowell followed walks by Ortiz and Ramirez by lifting a two-run single to right field in the third, giving the Red Sox a 3-1 lead, it represented the first ball the Red Sox hit out of the infield on the fly -- 15 batters into the game.
Carmona needed 39 pitches to complete the third inning, and his 100th pitch of the game came to the leadoff hitter of the fifth inning, Kevin Youkilis, who flipped it into left field for a single. With Ortiz about to come to the plate again, Carmona's night was over, but the Red Sox are likely to see Carmona again in a potential Game 6.
Perez, one of the top lefty set-up men in baseball, typically enters in the seventh or eighth inning, and had not been deployed as early as the fifth since June. He finally got Ortiz to make an out on a ground ball to second base, but Ortiz, hustling down the line on a sore knee that will be operated on when the Red Sox' season ends, beat the throw to first to avoid a double play. This set up back-to-back homers by Ramirez and Lowell, both right-handed hitters, against the left-handed Perez.
What followed was a dazzling parade of lockdown relief efforts, infamy awaiting the first who made a mistake:
Jensen Lewis, the Indians' rookie right-hander, taking over for Perez in the fifth and nailing down seven outs without allowing a baserunner.
Hideki Okajima, the Red Sox' rookie lefty, surviving -- barely -- a bases-loaded jam in the sixth by getting Travis Hafner to line out to second, ending the inning.
Mike Timlin, the Red Sox' veteran right-hander, who delivered a 1-2-3 eighth.
Rafael Betancourt, the Indians' slayer of right-handed batters, who pitched 2 1/3 innings, surviving a two-out single by Dustin Pedroia in the ninth by retiring Youkilis on a liner to center at the end of an epic, 11-pitch at-bat.
Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox' closer nonpareil, who pitched two scoreless innings but gave way to Gagne in the 11th
Tom Mastny, the Indians' right-hander, who pitched a 1-2-3 10th inning -- setting down Ortiz and Ramirez without incident -- to earn the win.
But then came Gagne. And up to the plate, a few moments later, came Nixon. Around the bases went the Indians. And on to Cleveland goes the ALCS, a series once again, with no telling what comes next.