10/13/2003 9:55 PM ET
Walker breaks out, breaks records
Second baseman hits fifth playoff homer in Sox win
Todd Walker homers in the fourth: 56K | 300K
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker takes a few shots for being less than spectacular on defense. His range is somewhat limited, and one scout, in previewing the playoffs, went as far as saying Walker was "nonexistent" on ground balls.
So far in the 2003 postseason, though, Walker has been anything but nonexistent. Aside from a throwing error in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, his glove work has been solid.
And instead of taking shots, he's been delivering them. Shot after shot after shot.
Walker, who hit all of 13 home runs during the regular season, has been an offensive monster in October.
"I think No. 1 is that I feed off these fans," he said Monday, after helping the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 3-2, at Fenway Park to even the AL Championship Series at two games apiece. "I'm more focused now than I've ever been in my life."
It started in that ALDS, when he went deep three times as the Red Sox beat the A's in a five-game thriller. It's not like he was mashing mediocre moundsmen, either. In Game 1 he shattered Oakland ace Tim Hudson's aura of invincibility with a first-inning homer and added a two-run blast -- one of his four hits on the night -- in the seventh off lefty-vs.-lefty specialist Ricardo Rincon. In Game 4 at Fenway he took Rincon deep again.
That was merely his warmup act for the ALCS. In going deep off New York's Mike Mussina in Boston's Game 1 victory at Yankee Stadium, he tied the Boston record for most homers in a single postseason. Monday night he broke away from Nomar Garciaparra and John Valentin, who each hit four homers in the 1999 playoffs, and took sole possession of the club mark.
"Todd swung the bat great the whole year," said teammate Trot Nixon, who also homered Monday. "Todd's not a power hitter, but you never know. Certain guys sometimes -- you never know who they will be -- will step up in the middle of the playoffs and all of a sudden, their power numbers erupt. Todd's one of those guys."
"I can't explain the home runs," Walker said, "but I'm trying to hit the ball hard and I'm trying to square it up as much as I can."
Leading off the bottom of the fourth inning of a scoreless game, Walker squared a 2-2 pitch from Mussina into the right-field seats for playoff homer No. 5, leaving him more than a little in awe.
"When you think of all the great home run hitters who have come through here, it's such a special thing for me," Walker said.
"I'm a 6-foot, 180-pound guy dripping wet, so how can I do that? I don't know. I just go up there with as much focus as I can and hopefully it works out."
That sharpened focus is complemented by a good memory. Walker said his Game 1 homer -- it came on a 2-2 changeup -- and other previous encounters with Mussina helped him in Game 4.
"It's a big chess match with Mike Mussina because he's a thinking pitcher out there, and I've faced him enough to know that that's what you've got to do, think along with him," he explained. "That's what I tried to do. I got two strikes in that [first-inning] at-bat and just eliminated the changeup based on what happened in New York and got a fastball that I could hit. And I was looking for it."
Acquired from the Reds in December in first-year general manager Theo Epstein's first trade, Walker is a bit of a journeyman who broke into the big leagues in 1996 with the Twins and also has played for the Rockies. He drove in what was then a career-high 64 runs for the Reds in 2002, but he shattered that mark with 83 RBIs this year as part of Boston's regular-season, record-setting offense.
"He's a good hitter. He's always been a good hitter," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He's bounced around a little, but he certainly has come into his own this year."
And particularly in the playoffs. Walker hit .283 in the regular season, but his homer and sixth-inning single on Monday gave him a 2-for-3 night that jacked his playoff batting average to .393. He's tied for the team lead with six RBIs in nine games, and in 28 official at-bats, he has a team-high 27 total bases.
"He's a very confident hitter right now," said Red Sox manager Grady Little. "He thinks he can hit anything that comes across the plate.
"That being the case, he'll be in there tomorrow."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.