Red Sox stave off A's with HR in 11th

Running, fielding blunders obstruct A's bid for sweep before Nixon's shot, 3-1

Division Series

October 05, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - The Oakland Athletics still hold a decided advantage in their Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, but it was pretty obvious last night which team doesn't make its home down the street from Harvard and MIT.

The A's bungled so many routine plays and made so many wrong-headed decisions on the bases that the Red Sox couldn't help but eventually find a way to score a 3-1 extra-inning victory in Game 3 at Fenway Park.

Pinch hitter Trot Nixon hit a mammoth two-run homer off A's reliever Rich Harden in the bottom of the 11th inning to send the sellout crowd of 35,460 into hysterics and keep hope alive for Red Sox Nation.

Nixon's first postseason home run, which landed in the raised bleachers in straightaway center field, also rewarded a beleaguered Boston bullpen that got three perfect innings from former Oriole Mike Timlin and a perfect 11th from eventual winning pitcher Scott Williamson.

"I'm very pleased with the way our guys kept battling and finally got over at the end," said Red Sox manager Grady Little.

Starting pitchers Derek Lowe and Ted Lilly each turned in a terrific seven-inning performance, but their efforts were largely obscured by the strange and inexplicable teamwide brain cramp that kept the A's from taking advantage of enough scoring opportunities to propel them into the American League Championship Series.

There was a point when you had to wonder if they had forgotten how to find home plate.

Twice, Oakland runners were set to score and chose - for reasons they can't even explain - not to touch home plate.

Center fielder Eric Byrnes tripped over the leg of catcher Jason Varitek and bruised a knee, which distracted him long enough for Varitek to retrieve an errant throw and tag him out.

Shortstop Miguel Tejada simply assumed that he didn't have to touch the plate after he was obstructed by third baseman Bill Mueller in the third inning. He was wrong, and veteran umpire Bill Welke called him out when he stopped 20 feet short of the plate and allowed Varitek to tag him.

So the A's scored one run instead of three and the Red Sox lived to play another day. Right-hander John Burkett is scheduled to face Tim Hudson in Game 4 this afternoon.

"I hope some of these guys learned a little bit of a lesson on those plays," said A's manager Ken Macha. "Byrnes' knee was hurting and he apparently was more worried about that. Obviously, it would have worked out better if he had gone over and touched home plate."

Macha seemed more disconcerted by the three errors committed on the Oakland infield in the second inning, which included a blown rundown play between third and home.

"We played a very poor second inning," he said. "I thought we gave them seven outs in that inning. The amazing thing is that they only got one run."

The Red Sox knew they would need all the help they could get. They already had gone superstitious when more than half of the players on the roster shaved their heads in advance of the game. Some of their behavior during the game skirted the edges of baseball propriety.

Four bench players - Doug Mirabelli, Lou Merloni, Andy Abad and Adrian Brown - lined up on the top step of the dugout with Lilly's name spelled in athletic tape on the backs of their red jackets. It was spelled with a dash between the two syllables to encourage fans on the first base side to chant it in a sing-song manner whenever the young left-hander prepared to throw a pitch.

It didn't seem to bother him much. He has been the hottest pitcher in the A's rotation since he replaced injured ace Mark Mulder, going 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA to close out the regular season. He showed why last night, even as the rest of his team seemed poised to self-destruct.

The A's tied the score in the sixth, but that run was sandwiched between the two base-running mistakes by Byrnes and Tejada.

Erubiel Durazo came home from third when a grounder by Ramon Hernandez skipped off the glove of Nomar Garciaparra for an error. Tejada also would have scored from second on the play if he had not run into Mueller as he rounded third.

But that wasn't the mistake. Mueller was guilty of interfering with Tejada, but the A's shortstop didn't run out the play. He saw the throw beat him to the plate, stopped about 20 feet short and threw his hands up in the air. Varitek jogged out and tagged him for the final out of the inning.

If Tejada had run out the play, he almost certainly would have been awarded home plate on the interference call, but since he gave up the play the umpires could not presume that he would have scored if he had not been obstructed.

Macha argued for several minutes, no doubt trying to sort out the logic of Varitek being awarded home for obstruction when he was headed back to third base on the rundown play earlier, but the Rule 7.06 (b) of the Official Baseball Rulebook states that the umpire must allow the play to continue if no direct play is being made on the obstructed runner.

The umpire then has the option of imposing "such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction." Because Tejada essentially surrendered home plate, Welke ruled that he would not have scored.

"He said there are two types of obstruction," Macha said. "He said our runner gave up and should have kept running. That was his interpretation."

It's a little murky, but Tejada had no one to blame but himself.

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