Trot Nixon had this in the back of his mind for some time. Just as he had it in his mind when Eric Wedge decided to start him in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Yankees that he'd love to take Roger Clemens deep. Last night the former Red Sox helped end a very long night of baseball with a soft single to right-center in the 11th inning that scored Grady Sizemore with what ended up as the winning run in a 13-6 victory over the Red Sox last night at Fenway Park.
Nixon has been buried on the Indians' depth chart. The Tribe decided earlier this season that Franklin Gutierrez was going to be their starting right fielder. But even the platooning ended for Nixon when he was relegated to being a bat off the bench. But what a weapon Nixon has given them off the pine, especially in last night's Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
Nixon said, "[Javier Lopez] is a submariner and I just tried to shorten everything up and not try to pull everything. I was glad to put enough bat on ball. I didn't hit it hard, but that doesn't matter.
"It was big. The whole atmosphere as far as playing here was everything I expected it to be. We showed our resiliency being down and then coming back against Curt Schilling. We just kept persevering. We were able to come through and even this series going back home."
Nixon knew he was a goner in Boston after last season. He knew after a few years of battling back problems that the Red Sox were not going to depend on him to be their starting right fielder, or even a platoon player. And, indeed, Boston general manager Theo Epstein threw $70 million at J.D. Drew. Nixon held off signing with anyone for a long time, knowing he needed back surgery to repair a disk.
Nixon's agent was Ron Shapiro, who happens to be Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro's father. Nixon had a chance to go to Oakland, but he realized the A's don't commit to players long term. When the opportunity came to sign with Cleveland, for one year with the opportunity to at least platoon, Nixon jumped at it.
In a recent interview, Nixon said, "The big thing for me was to get my back straightened out and get my health in order. I knew my career wasn't going to go forward without that. Once I had the back taken care of and it started feeling well, I figured I was good to go and start helping a team.
"The one thing here is I haven't been able to get the consistent at-bats that I was hoping for. But I enjoy it here because it's a good group of guys and a team that's really hungry to win. It's a good feeling to know that we've been in first place and I've been a part of that. I love this kid Gutierrez. I think he's going to be one of the better players in this league. So I have nothing to complain about."
Nixon certainly knew after the Indians beat the Yankees that he was coming home.
He spent 10 seasons in Boston. He won a championship in 2004 with the Idiots. He was also there in 2003 when Grady Little failed to take out Pedro Martínez in Game 7, costing the Sox a chance to go to the World Series. Yet Nixon always remained loyal to Little.
It was interesting that Nixon got his hit against Lopez, a lefty specialist. The longtime rap in Boston was that Nixon couldn't hit lefthanded pitching. But every now and then he proves you wrong. The funny thing is that both Nixon and Drew hit .224 against lefthanders this season. Nixon has spent hours in the batting cage trying to improve against lefthanders. Maybe now managers will think twice before they believe that a lefty specialist can automatically get him out.
"I think I'm hanging in against them better than I have for a while," Nixon said last week. "I think any players want to get better at things people don't think you can do. It's a motivational factor. We all have pride in what we can do, and I'm not going to tell you it didn't bother me that I had that reputation."
Nixon was watching last night's game from the top step of the dugout throughout. It was easy to tell he couldn't wait for Wedge to call his name. It was thought Nixon might pinch hit for Ryan Garko with two on in the ninth against Jonathan Papelbon, but Wedge let Garko hit against the tough righthanded closer.
One advantage the Indians appear to have is on their bench, where a guy like Nixon can be a force from the left side. The Red Sox don't have anyone quite of that caliber who can come up in the late innings and produce a big hit. Eric Hinske has done a decent job, but he's no Trot Nixon. He doesn't have the store of emotion Nixon has built up over the years playing for the Red Sox. Nixon understands the intensity of playing at Fenway with the spotlight squarely on him. He won't wilt under that, and he didn't last night.
The likelihood of Nixon returning to Cleveland next season is probably not that good. He's trying to make an impact in the times he does get to play. Hitting a home run against Clemens, and then producing the go-ahead run in an epic struggle in Game 2 against the Red Sox are a great way to start.
Nixon had said that coming back to Boston was going to be somewhat emotional for him. But what he did last night was off the charts. He says he still speaks to a few current and former Red Sox. Before the last two games he has hugged catcher Jason Varitek and met with all of his old teammates one by one. He was a popular figure here, one who contributed on and off the field.
Nixon was the one last night. He had envisioned this. Dreamed this. Finally, it came true.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.