Trot Nixon and Scott Hatteberg are good friends, but when Nixon saw the Oakland A's first baseman make two errors on one Bill Mueller bases-loaded ground ball in the fourth inning of last night's 13-5 Red Sox win, he knew the Red Sox needed to go for the jugular.
"We've all been there," said Nixon, whose team scored nine unearned runs. "You try to go to the plate before you have the ball and you don't come up with the ball and then you throw it away. Everyone's done it.
''Scott's a good friend, but good teams pounce on those mistakes and we did that. It was a tight game for a long time but we made it fun at the end."
It was Nixon who paced a 12-hit Boston attack with two hits and four RBIs, belting a two-run double and a two-run homer. He knocked in two of the five Sox runs in the fourth and two of the seven Sox runs in the seventh to support a solid six-inning performance by Tim Wakefield, who improved to 4-1 (ERA of 3.18) and moved past Pedro Martinez and Smoky Joe Wood for fifth place in all-time Sox wins with 118.
"Wake didn't think he had his good stuff," said Nixon, ''but go up there and try to hit that knuckleball the way he was throwing it and you realize if that's not his good stuff, then what is? He kept us in the game until we were able to get the bats going."
One downer was Manny Ramirez leaving in the first inning after getting hit in the head with a Dan Haren slider. According to manager Terry Francona, Ramirez felt ''woozy" but he was not hospitalized and will be reevaluated this afternoon.
But the evening's drum roll belonged in front of this: Kevin Millar ended a season-long drought by belting his first home run in 112 at-bats.
"He hit that ball yesterday [a double off the wall in Game 1 against the Mariners] probably better than the one he hit today," said Francona. ''If he has good at-bats and grinds it out, he'll be fine. That's what he has to do, simplify things. See the ball, stay square. Do all the things he's supposed to do that sometimes hitters forget. They come up a little dry and they try to do too much."
The Sox, winners of six of seven, trailed, 2-1, after three innings before putting up some crooked numbers on a cool, hitter-friendly night at the Fens.
Millar's home run off reliever Keiichi Yabu brought quite a roar from the crowd -- but a bit of the silent treatment from the dugout. Jay Payton and David Ortiz, who scored in front of him, high-fived him, but as Millar approached the rest of his teammates, they ignored him. Eventually, the ice was broken and smiles broke out everywhere.
"It drives me nuts," said Millar. "I watch tons of video. I've taken tons of BP. I'm there every day at 1 p.m., even with no one there. I fly open a lot and you just find little things in your stance and in your hand position."
After Millar's three-run blast, Doug Mirabelli reached on an error by shortstop Marco Scutaro, which opened the floodgates for four more runs. Mark Bellhorn doubled, and Johnny Damon drove in a pair with a single in front of Nixon's blast that made it 13-3.
"I just a hit a mistake," said Nixon. "That's what our team did so well tonight. We took advantage of mistakes."
In the fourth, after the Sox clogged the basepaths with singles by David Ortiz, Millar, and Edgar Renteria, two runs scored on Hatteberg's double error. He misplayed Mueller's ground ball, then threw wide to Haren covering. Haren reloaded the bases by walking Damon, and a wild pitch scored the third run before Nixon's bomb to the triangle in right center scored the final two runs of the inning and ended Haren's night.
"Hatty kind of hurried his throw," said A's manager Ken Macha. "If we make that play, perhaps we get out of the inning with no runs. It wound up costing us a bunch of runs. It was a big play in the game."
Staked to a 6-2 lead, Wakefield, who threw 102 pitches, gave one run back in the sixth when No. 9 hitter Scutaro doubled to score Eric Byrnes.
"I didn't have my best knuckleball," Wakefield said. ''I was fortunate that our offense scored as many runs as we did tonight."
Wakefield was especially impressed with how the banged-up Sox have been able to hang in through adversity.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the experience we have in the clubhouse," Wakefield said. "It helps to have a leader like Tito to explain to guys what their job is. We all know what our roles are."
And on this night, the role of every Sox hitter was to make Hatteberg and the A's pay for a costly mistake.