Nixon delivers walk-off single for Boston

Nixon delivers walk-off single for Boston

BOSTON -- Long before the Red Sox mobbed Trot Nixon for his game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday's impressive 7-6 comeback over the Devil Rays, there was a far less cheery scene unfolding between the home dugout and clubhouse at Fenway Park.

There was Curt Schilling, as he told it later, with smoke basically bellowing out of his ears. The man had reached the point of utter disgust -- with himself.

Two innings in, he had placed his team in a 5-0 hole, and this mere-mortal thing that he has been battling all season had finally sent the big right-hander to his boiling point.

"I came in after that second inning as down as I have been in a long, long time," said Schilling. "Emotionally, I was just frustrated. I was at a crossroads mentally, and it was either continue to keep beating myself down or make some adjustments.

"I'm sitting there after the second inning and we're losing, 5-0, and I've shown no signs of being able to get them out. Like I said, after the second inning, I was at the end of my rope and I had to figure out which way I was going to go."

For the next four innings, he stifled the Devil Rays, giving up just two hits and no runs for the remainder of his 97-pitch outing. It's safe to say that Schilling (nine hits, five runs, four strikeouts) isn't all the way back yet, and he's be the first to admit it. But with his resolve, he bought the Boston bats time to climb back into the game.

And when you do that for the Red Sox at Fenway Park, you can basically chalk it up as a win. The Sox have won 17 of their last 18 games at Fenway, and are 42-19 at home this season.

How machine-like has the offense been at home lately? Consider that the Red Sox have scored seven runs or more in each of their last 12 home games. Yes, the offense is carrying this team.

But perhaps the comeback started with a defensive play with two outs in the top of the eighth. Nixon fielded a Carl Crawford single to right and nailed Toby Hall at the plate to end the top of the inning. Varitek made a lunging tag, preventing a run that would have given the Devil Rays a 7-4 lead. It was unclear if Varitek actually tagged Hall, but the bottom line is that it was ruled an out, one the Red Sox desperately needed. And one they capitalized on in a big way.

"I don't know if I nicked him," Varitek said. "I know I didn't tag him flush. It looks like in some replays I nick him."

Then, the Sox staged a rally in the eighth off Devil Rays reliever Joe Borowski that set up the grand finale in the ninth.

It started with Johnny Damon, out of the lineup because of a bruised left hand, pinch-hitting for Kevin Millar. Damon drew a walk on a borderline pitch that left Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella far less than pleased.

Nixon, in the middle of all the late-inning drama, then sent a screaming liner over the glove of left fielder Crawford, giving the Sox runners at second and third with nobody out. Bill Mueller slimmed the deficit to a run with a grounder to second. Then John Olerud pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler and slammed a game-tying single to right.

"It definitely changed the momentum of the game," said Damon. "It got pretty exciting there. We definitely needed a game like this one. It seemed like we weren't clicking today."

The clicks all came late. Mike Timlin mowed the Rays down in the top of the ninth, putting the Red Sox in the type of sudden-death situation they seem to always seize.

The rally started with David Ortiz drawing a one-out walk and then trucking to third on a single to right by Manny Ramirez. Varitek followed with a walk to load the bases. After the Devil Rays got a temporary reprieve on Damon's lineout to shallow right, Nixon ended it by smoking a liner into right, well in front of Aubrey Huff. Ortiz didn't need to bellyflop into home like he did to third. Instead, he waltzed home as the Red Sox charged out of the dugout.

"I was looking for Baez to come after me like he normally does," said Nixon. "He's a great competitor out there, and I was looking for something hard. I'm sure he wanted to get ahead in the count in that situation."

Nixon guessed correctly, teeing off on the first pitch to send everybody home.

Schilling didn't factor in the decision, but he surely looked like he was going to be the victim of an early knockout.

"It's like being in a fight," said Timlin. "You take a few punches and you're like, 'OK, that's enough. I'm going to have to give it back, and that's what he did'."

Opponents have seen better stuff from Schilling, but there is still plenty of respect for his will.

"To his credit," said Piniella, "he dug his heels in and pitched good baseball."

And after it was over, Schilling, who has had two rocky outings since moving back to the rotation, vowed that he has some big-time games left in him this season.

"I have two options," said Schilling. "I can quit or I can find a way to get better. I'm going to be better. I'm going to be better before this is all over. I'm going to be the guy that they count on to throw seven, eight, nine innings every fifth day, and it's going to be sooner rather than later in my mind."

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