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Notes: Nixon gets nod at Fenway

Notes: Nixon gets nod at Fenway

BOSTON -- Much has been made of the Indians being forced to return to the quirky, antique environment of Fenway Park for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

With his team still on the verge of clinching a World Series berth, manager Eric Wedge opted to do his part to diffuse whatever intimidating aura this environment might impose upon his players by leaning on the one player who knows Fenway better than any other.

So there he was again. Trot Nixon, in the lineup, batting eighth and manning right field.

"He gets us a little more experience here," Wedge said. "He knows right field here, and he's a left-handed bat [against right-hander Curt Schilling]."

Nixon, who came into the game 2-for-9 in his career against Schilling, was not expected to have much of a meaningful role with the Tribe when the postseason began. But this marked his third start in 10 games.

It is, however, as much a credit to Nixon as it is a comment on regular right fielder Franklin Gutierrez's troubles to hit the breaking ball and navigate Fenway's bizarre right-field terrain. In Game 1, Gutierrez, who is batting .160 in October, misplayed a ball hit by Mike Lowell that turned out to be a two-run ground-rule double.

"Trot's obviously very familiar with it out there," Wedge said. "And Trot's a great teammate. He worked with Gutierrez [on playing right field here] before the game."

Being a great teammate had been Nixon's primary contribution to this club in the second half, as Gutierrez began getting more of the playing time.

"He's important to us as a ballclub, because he's been a mentor," Wedge said of Nixon, "and in some ways to some of our core players who are developing into leaders themselves. Trot has probably been more out front than anybody."

Lately, though, Nixon has had a chance to contribute in more tangible ways. His pinch-hit RBI single in the 11th inning of Game 2 here was as big an at-bat as the Indians have had this postseason. The Indians came into Game 6 hoping for more of the same.

K is for Kleveland: The way Josh Beckett was pitching in Game 5, he probably could have gotten just about any lineup in baseball to strike out 11 times.

Beckett or no Beckett, though, the Indians are in the middle of a disturbing trend when it comes to their strikeout susceptibility.

The Indians struck out 10 or more times in Games 3, 4 and 5. The postseason record for consecutive games with double-digit Ks is four games, set by the '97 Mariners. On the whole, the Tribe has struck out 34 times during this stretch.

"We've always been a team with our share of strikeouts," said Wedge, whose club ranked third in the AL with 1,202 strikeouts this season. "But we want to make sure the damage comes along with it. That's what I want to see happen. When opportunities arrive, we want to be sure we take advantage of those opportunities and separate a little bit on the scoreboard."

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Knuckling under: Everyone has had a theory on Travis Hafner's relative struggles this season, but no one's found a consistent cure.

In Pronk's latest problematic run, which has seen him go 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts over the last few games, Wedge thinks the slugger has overanalyzed his at-bats. One reporter suggested that Hafner might have been thrown off by facing knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game 4 and not recovered yet.

Wedge seemed to think there might be something to that theory.

"There's been times that I've sat guys on [days a knuckleballer is pitching]," Wedge said, "because it's a totally different approach. What you're seeing is different."

Hafner's poor performance, of late, puts the onus elsewhere, general manager Mark Shapiro said.

"We've never relied on one guy this year," Shapiro said. "I look less at Haf and more at our other guys to pick him up. That's the way we've played."

Plane plans: The Indians didn't pack their bags and pre-arrange for a flight to take them to Boston after Game 5, because they went into that game, in Wedge's words, expecting to win.

With that thought in mind, Wedge was asked if his team came into Game 6 with bags packed and a late-night flight back to Cleveland arranged.

"No, we're flying out [Sunday]," Wedge said. "We came to the ballpark [Saturday] focused on the Boston Red Sox, and what we need to do to play well, to give ourselves a chance to win the ballgame."

View from above: Shapiro was asked if his mood has changed at all, now that the series has shifted back to Boston.

"At any juncture of this series, if you would have said you have a chance to come back to Fenway Park up, 3-2, with Fausto Carmona on the mound, I would have signed up for it in a heartbeat," Shapiro said. "I feel good about our situation."

Tribe tidbits: Utility infielder Chris Gomez has a .350 (14-for-40) lifetime average against Wakefield and a .306 (11-for-36) average against Schilling. Wedge said he actually considered starting Gomez against Wakefield but eventually thought better of it, because "then you're talking about taking somebody else out, obviously. So we just keep moving forward. He does have some numbers, though. I wouldn't hesitate to put him in there. But we're sticking with our guys." ... The Indians have had 10 different players combine for a total of 13 homers this postseason. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that ties a record for a team in a single postseason -- a mark set by the 1999 Yankees and matched by the 2004 Astros. ... In each of the Indians' last two trips to the World Series, they advanced by beating their ALCS opponent on the road in Game 6.

On deck: Should a decisive Game 7 be necessary, it would be played at 8:23 p.m. ET on Sunday at Fenway. Right-hander Jake Westbrook would oppose right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka.

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" ] }