10/05/2003 1:25 AM ET
Nixon hot to Trot for Sox
Trot's homer: 56k | 300k
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Audio calls: A's | Red Sox
BOSTON -- For nearly a month, what was shaping up as the best season of Trot Nixon's life hit an annoying roadblock. The right fielder, who in many ways embodies the grittiness of these Red Sox, strained his left calf muscle on Sept. 9.
The last few weeks, he's seemingly spent half of his time in the trainer's room trying to make the injury playable, and the other half in the batting cage trying to work the kinks out of his suddenly rusty swing.
Nixon knocked all the annoyance of the last month right over the wall in center field Saturday night. In a season of big hits for the Red Sox, Nixon's was the biggest yet.
His two-run homer off Rich Harden in the bottom of the 11th inning snapped a 1-1 tie, and in one magical instant, gave the Sox a 3-1 victory that merely saved their season.
A loss in Game 3 of this Division Series against the A's would have sent the Sox home for the season.
Instead, they'll be right back at it Sunday afternoon, trying to send this series back to Oakland for a winner-take-all Game 5.
"It's been frustrating because I haven't felt like I'm in the game," Nixon said. "What I mean by that is because of my timing. I've been hurt the month of September. It's just been kind of frustrating. Stuff like (the walk-off homer) that can bring your confidence to another level."
A central figure for the Red Sox the last five years, Nixon became an after-thought the early part of this series. With lefties Barry Zito and Ted Lilly starting Games 2 and 3, Nixon -- who has traditionally struggled against southpaws -- was replaced by Gabe Kapler in right field.
But with righty Harden on the mound, Nixon hit for Kapler, and delivered what had to be the team's most memorable pinch-hit homer since Bernie Carbo's three-run blow tied Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. It is the first pinch-hit, walk-off homer in playoff history since Kirk Gibson's dramatic ninth-inning blast in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against, ironically, the A's.
Though pinch-hitters get all the glamour when they come up big in moments like this, the job is one of the most unappreciated in baseball.
"For Trot, he hasn't gotten a chance to play much the last few days," said Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "It's not an easy thing to do, pinch-hit. It's the hardest thing to do in baseball."
Especially for Nixon, who has had to battle his health and his swing all at once. The calf is finally feeling better. And with this enormously important blast, he hopes the swing is coming back to him just in time.
The Red Sox certainly need Nixon. Their offense has been stymied by the A's for the better part of this series.
"The lineup misses Trot a lot," said Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "He hit 28 homers this year with limited (441) at-bats. He's been out, his timing is off. But Trot is a great player, a tremendous asset to our team."
His first home run in 36 career postseason at-bats certainly could not have been timed better.
A deeply religious man, Nixon stayed true to his foundation when he took his at-bat in the 11th.
"It's a situation where the Lord allowed me to honor him on the field. I put my faith in him in that last at-bat," Nixon said. "I asked him to calm my nerves. It's real easy for your emotions to take over with the fans here. They yell your name. It's a feeling you can't describe."
But Nixon stayed calm, dug down and looked for a pitch to hammer. And he did.
He set off a mob scene at Fenway Park.
"Our fans are the greatest in baseball," Nixon said. "It's such a gratifying feeling to come home and have our fans just geared up."
On this night, Nixon shifted that gear to its highest level in recent memory. And he insured that Fenway Park will see at least one more baseball game.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.