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Nixon haunts Sox as Indians tie ALCS

Nixon haunts Sox; Tribe ties ALCS

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BOSTON -- The passion of the postseason tends to swallow all rational thought.

We get lost in the mighty at-bats of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, caught up in the roughshod outings of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona and, somewhere along the line, we begin to wonder if this supposedly evenly matched American League Championship Series is really much of a series, after all.

Then comes a good, solid smack to the cerebrum and a dose of reality.

A series it is, now that the Indians have conquered the calamity of seeing their dual aces turn in a couple of clunkers and evened the ALCS up. They did so with a 13-6, 11-inning victory in Game 2 at Fenway Park on Saturday night/Sunday morning that was as electrifying as it was elongated.

"I hope we made a statement," reliever Tom Mastny said after the five-hour, 14-minute affair was complete. "We did tie [Boston] for the best record in baseball this year. We are a good team. We might not have the big-name superstars that everybody else has, but that's just because we're a smaller market."

What, you don't consider Mastny to be a big-name superstar?

Well, no, of course you don't.

But Mastny and his mates in the Tribe bullpen sure pitched like superstars in the wake of a surprisingly tough turn of events for Carmona and setup man Rafael Perez.

And you probably didn't expect Trot Nixon to emerge from the bowels of the bench, return to his Fenway roots and come through with the pinch-hit RBI single that would ignite the seven-run 11th inning and seal this one in favor of the Indians. Yet that's just what happened.

So perhaps it's time to legitimately expect the unexpected from an Indians team that many had begun to write off after a shaky start from Sabathia in a 10-3 loss in Game 1.

"These guys persevere," manager Eric Wedge said. "They find a way to get it done. We don't just win with one area of the club or another area of the club."

Coming into this series, though, the Indians were banking on 19-game winners Sabathia and Carmona giving them a chance to win. But as was the case with Sabathia a night earlier, Carmona had trouble attacking a Red Sox lineup with a penchant for patience. The hard-throwing sinkerballer served up four runs on four hits, walking five and and striking out five in four-plus innings.

The inning of Carmona's unraveling was a 39-pitch third. Staked to a 1-0 lead afforded him by Victor Martinez's RBI double off Curt Schilling in the first, Carmona let the Sox load the bases for Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez had walked twice with the bases loaded in Game 1, and he did so again -- on four pitches, no less. Mike Lowell then stepped up and sent a flare to right field that scored two runs to put the Red Sox up, 3-1.

The Indians offense, though, had little trouble retaliating off Schilling. Consecutive singles from Martinez and Ryan Garko in the fourth set up a towering three-run shot to center field off the bat of Jhonny Peralta, putting the Tribe back ahead, 4-3.

"That was a big moment when I hit that homer," Peralta said. "It showed we never give up. We try to play until the end of the game. We try to finish."

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Grady Sizemore's solo shot off Schilling in the fifth would not prove to be a finishing blow, but it did bump the Tribe's lead to 5-3.

Wedge hoped that Carmona, whose pitch count was nearing 100, could protect that lead with a clean fifth. But when Kevin Youkilis' leadoff base hit proved otherwise, Wedge yanked Carmona and gave the ball to the left-handed Perez, one of the most dominant setup men in baseball.

Having to go to your setup man in the fifth inning is never a good sign. And what happened next did not exactly portend a favorable outcome for the Indians. Perez had to face the heart of the Sox lineup, and he suffered. Ramirez blasted his 0-2 pitch over the wall in right-center field to tie the game, and Lowell pounded one over the seats on top of the Green Monster to make it 6-5.

Had the Indians not managed to manufacture a run off Manny Delcarmen in the sixth, when Franklin Gutierrez grounded out with two runners in scoring position, those back-to-back blasts might have decided the game. But the Indians have never been known to go down quietly this year, and they held true to that trend in this one.

With the score knotted at 6, this game was wholly in the hands of the respective 'pens, and much earlier than anyone anticipated, given the strengths of the starters.

Jensen Lewis had come on in the fifth to clean up Perez's mess by getting a key double-play ball out of Jason Varitek. He then retired the sixth and got two quick outs in the seventh before turning things over to Rafael Betancourt.

Crucial contest
In seven of the last eight ALCS matchups, the team to win Game 2 has advanced to the World Series, the exception being 2004 (Boston). The winner of Game 2 has advanced to the World Series in 28 of 42 LCS series (67 percent) since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1985.
Year
Game 2 result
Series
Series winner
2007
Cle. 13, Bos. 6
Tied, 1-1
TBD
2006
Det. 8, Oak. 5
Det., 2-0
Det., 4-0
2005
Chi. 2, LAA 1
Tied, 1-1
Chi., 4-1
2004
NYY 3, Bos. 1
NYY, 2-0
Bos., 4-3
2003
NYY 6, Bos. 2
Tied, 1-1
NYY, 4-3
2002
Ana. 6, Min. 3
Tied, 1-1
Ana., 4-1
2001
NYY 3, Sea. 2
NYY, 2-0
NYY, 4-1
2000
NYY 7, Sea. 1
Tied, 1-1
NYY, 4-2
1999
NYY 3, Bos. 2
NYY, 2-0
NYY, 4-1

All Betancourt did was strike out Ramirez to end the seventh, pitch a perfect eighth and toss a scoreless ninth.

"Our bullpen did a fantastic job," Wedge said.

Ah, but the bullpen was looking a little thin when extra innings rolled around. Wedge had to turn the game over to mid-reliever Mastny in the 10th, with Ortiz, Ramirez and Lowell all due up.

"You can't give them too much credit going into it," Mastny said of that tough spot. "They're not giving you credit, so why should you? It's a two-way street."

The end result? Groundout, flyout, flyout.

To the 11th it went.

And in the 11th, after the Indians had put two aboard against Eric Gagne, Nixon was brought out to pinch-hit and the Red Sox turned to left-hander Javier Lopez.

"I was excited to finally get in there at 1:30 a.m.," Nixon said.

He wasn't as excited to face a lefty, but he had no trouble lining Lopez's 1-0 pitch into center field to score Sizemore with the go-ahead run.

"I think if you can keep your emotions in check in those situations, you've probably got a little bit better chance," Nixon said. "I was fortunate. I didn't hit it hard, but I hit it where I needed to."

Nixon's hit opened the floodgates. Cabrera scored from third on Lopez's wild pitch, making it 8-6. And, after Martinez was intentionally walked, Ryan Garko singled up the middle to score another run and knock Lopez out of the game.

It didn't end there. With two out, Gutierrez turned it into an outright massacre when he pounded Jon Lester's first-pitch fastball over the Green Monster for a three-run blast.

An 11th-inning touchdown was complete, and a series was born.

"This is what we've played all year for," Mastny said. "This moment. Tonight."

And this win ensured they'll play longer than some had come to expect.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
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