One swing turns Millar into hero

One swing turns Millar into hero

BOSTON -- With star sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz taking their hacks against A's closer Octavio Dotel in the bottom of the ninth inning, Kevin Millar played the role of student, first from the top step of the dugout and then from the on-deck circle.

As he surveyed the scene, Millar saw one fastball after another. He hoped Dotel wouldn't change that plan for him. Millar is a notorious fastball hitter, and as he stepped to the plate with one out and Ortiz (walk) on first and the Sox down by a run, he got his hands ready for some quick reaction time.

Dotel continued to pour in the heat, and on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Millar turned the temperature up on his bat, smashing the two-run homer that set off the first certifiable home plate mob scene at Fenway Park this season. It was a wild finish for the Red Sox, with one Millar swing turning a possible 2-1 loss into a 3-2 victory, giving the Sox nine wins in their last 11 games.

"I was like, 'Please throw me a lot of fastballs.' He came back with another heater," said Millar, "and I just got a chance to get a good swing on it."

Good enough to send a packed Fenway crowd of 35,644 into a frenzy. Millar's walk-off liner, which came on a 2-2 pitch, just cleared the Monster.

As he gleefully rounded the bases, he braced for the rowdiness that awaited him.

"I got abused at home plate," said Millar. "That's the only bad thing about hitting game-winning home runs. You get punched, you get grabbed, you get your hair pulled. I don't know who did it. I'll take that abuse."

It was probably the biggest regular season homer Millar has hit since his first longball in a Boston uniform delivered the Sox a 16-inning victory the night of April 2, 2003, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Millar has ended a game with a homer before, but not at Fenway Park.

"I hit one for the Fighting Fish [also known as the Marlins], but this feels nice here in Sox Nation," said Millar.

Especially nice for a man who went homerless in his first 111 at-bats of the season, until ending that drought with a three-run bomb in Monday night's win.

"Everybody knows that Millar is a hitter," said Ortiz. "Millar can hit."

And Millar would also like to think that he can field. But he had a tough night at first base in this one, making an error that led to an unearned run in the first inning and then missing the bag in the seventh on a fielder's choice.

Redemption didn't take long. By the end of the night, Millar's fielding was a mere footnote to his rejuvenated bat.

"That was a good swing," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "It was definitely the Kevin Millar show tonight. He was involved in every aspect of that ballgame. And fortunately for us, he put a great swing on a really good pitcher and we came out with the win."

For most of the night, pitching was what carried the Sox. Bronson Arroyo (4-0, 2.91 ERA) turned in another strong outing (6 1/3 innings, three hits, one earned run, four strikeouts), but took a no-decision.

The Sox were having a tough time against A's right-hander Kirk Saarloos. They did put something together in the fifth, with Edgar Renteria (single) and Bill Mueller (walk) setting the table for the ridiculously hot Johnny Damon, who roped an RBI single to right to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. Damon went 3-for-3 to raise his average to .387.

Following Damon's equalizer, it appeared as if the Sox were about to take the lead when Trot Nixon scorched a liner to left. However, A's left fielder Eric Byrnes made a brilliant lunging catch to end the inning.

A momentum turner? At least temporarily.

The A's finally rallied against Arroyo in the seventh. Bobby Kielty started it with a leadoff double off the Green Monster that missed being a home run by maybe a foot or two. Scott Hatteberg reached on an infield single. Following a strikeout to Byrnes, Adam Melhuse hit a grounder back to Arroyo, who looked toward the runner at third, hesitated slightly and then threw to first. That decision backfired, as Kielty bolted home to score the go-ahead run. Melhuse was safe at first because Millar, more concerned by the breaking baserunner, missed the bag and then threw too late to the plate.

   Kevin Millar  /   1B
Born: 09/24/71
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

"As soon as he hit it, I knew I didn't have time to turn a double play," said Arroyo. "So I thought I'd see the guy at third, take an out and take my chances with [Marco] Scutaro. It's hard to look the runner and look at the bag and see how far off he is. Obviously, he took off as soon as I turned my head."

Perhaps that miscue was all it was going to take to sink the Sox on a night Oakland was pitching so well. Rookie reliever Huston Street was brilliant in relief of Saarloos, firing 2 1/3 shutout innings.

The Sox were also clutch out of the bullpen, particularly Matt Mantei, who picked up the win and kept it a one-run game by pitching a 1-2-3 top of the ninth.

"That was huge," Mantei said. "I was fired up. I struggled with my mechanics tonight, I was having problems throwing strikes. To come out of that without a run scored, without a walk, I was proud of myself. The big boys coming up. I had to do my job there."

Dotel came on and tried to close it in the ninth and got off to a good start by striking out Ramirez. But Ortiz drew a walk, setting the stage for Millar, who took care of the rest.

"Of course, if they don't give you nothing to hit, you've got to take them," Ortiz said. "That was the difference of the game, you know."

Millar made sure of that.

"I don't quit," said Millar. "I'm going to grind you out as hard as I can. I'm going to give you everything I've got. I think that's what we do as a team here. We're going to go out there and dogfight you. It's funny, when you start rolling, all of a sudden you start getting your pitches."

Millar got it and raked it.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.