NEW YORK -- Experience against Roger Clemens isn't exactly the Indians' specialty. The club has just eight players who have faced the Rocket in their careers, and only four of those -- left fielder Kenny Lofton (14-for-62), right fielder Trot Nixon (13-for-35), utilityman Chris Gomez (6-for-21) and third baseman Casey Blake (3-for-9) -- have more than five at-bats off him. So when Clemens took the mound against the Tribe in Sunday's Game 3 of the ALDS, manager Eric Wedge opted to make use of what little experience he had at his disposal. He penciled Nixon into the eight hole.
"He has the most experience here at this ballpark against this team, and he's had some success [against Clemens] in the past," Wedge said, "so it's a good time to get him in there and give him the opportunity to do something for us." Nixon hasn't done much for the Indians in recent months. He lost his starting job to Franklin Gutierrez in August, and had just 14 at-bats in September. Nine of those at-bats came after the Indians clinched the AL Central title. For the season, Nixon, whose body was slowed considerably after offseason back surgery, hit just .251 with three homers and 31 RBIs. But the 13 hits, three homers, four doubles, one triple, seven walks and 10 RBIs in the past against Clemens were the numbers Wedge was concerned with. And the manager seemed to view this start as a reward, of sorts. "I think he deserves to be in there," Wedge said. "He's a guy that really kicked things off for us, leadership-wise, earlier this year. He's had some big hits for us. He's meant so much to us on and off the field." The Shoppach shuffle: If this series does go to a Game 4 in New York, Wedge will stick to his season-long standard of starting backup catcher Kelly Shoppach with Paul Byrd on the mound. That means first baseman Ryan Garko's bat will likely be taken out of the lineup, as Victor Martinez would shift to first. Wedge said keeping Byrd in his comfort zone is more important than having a more potent lineup. "There's nobody more important than your starting pitcher," Wedge said. "You want to make sure you put your starting pitcher in the best position to give you a chance to win the ballgame, and the guy who's been catching him all year long would catch him [Monday]." Always on edge: General managers are groomed to never feel particularly comfortable. It stood to reason, then, that Mark Shapiro didn't want to say he was breathing sighs of relief before Sunday's game. "I feel better than if [the series] was 1-1 or we were down 2-0," he said. "That's the only way I can quantify how I feel. But I definitely can't say I feel good in this place against a club that tough." Speaking of "that club," Yankees GM Brian Cashman had some kind words for Shapiro.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.