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Nixon's long night ended dreamily

NEW YORK -- Call it grit, or ice water in his veins. Trot Nixon calls it perseverance.

How else can you have as tough a night as he had -- a dribbler to the pitcher, a strikeout swinging, two strikeouts looking -- and then come up in the top of the ninth against lefthander Gabe White and smash a two-run homer on a 1-2 pitch (which he called a "flat slider") to turn a one-run lead into a three-run advantage?

It wasn't a winning or tying homer. It was just that last nail in the Yankee coffin, and Nixon provided it without much fanfare. He capped an explosive night for the Red Sox offense, which awoke from its slumber in a 9-6 comeback victory to force tonight's Game 7.

"I was trying to think my way onto the basepaths instead of going out there and swinging the bat," Nixon said. "The one thing I did ask [for] when I got into the batter's box was the strength to be aggressive. I said, `Lord, I've had some tough at-bats here where I haven't been aggressive. I've had some good pitches thrown to me, tough pitches I could have hit. But just give me the strength to be aggressive up there.' I didn't ask for a hit or anything else, I just asked to be aggressive. I was, and it paid off for me."

It's always tough for Nixon against lefthanders, anyway. But in this case, Grady Little threw out any thought of platooning his right fielder with Gabe Kapler. Little was going to win or lose with Nixon, because he wanted his mental toughness out on the field.

Nixon grounded right back to Yankees starter Andy Pettitte in the second inning, stranding Bill Mueller at second base. Facing Pettitte again in the fourth, Nixon led off with a swinging strikeout. In his only at-bat against a righthander, in the sixth, Nixon struck out looking on a Jose Contreras slider.

In the Red Sox' three-run seventh, Nixon didn't help much. The Sox had roughed up Contreras and here came another lefty, Felix Heredia. Nixon was right: He wasn't as aggressive as he should have been, though he did run the count full before he took a nasty knee-high pitch for strike three.

"They're irritating," said Nixon of the strikeouts, "but Kevin [Millar] came over to me and said to me, `Don't lose your focus because you may end up doing something later in the game.' That's the beautiful thing about baseball. Obviously, there's not much you can do if it's your last at-bat, but at the same time, after the seventh inning, I still had another at-bat, and Kevin reminded me of that. You don't want to get emotionally down to where you come up in that last at-bat and you're not going to be very successful. But this time I was able to do something good for the ball club."

Nixon, who has hit a few dramatic home runs in this ballpark over the years, said he could feel the team's intensity rising last night. He said he could care less how the Sox won the game, as long as they won.

"We just swung the bats extremely well," said Nixon, who's batting .350 in the series with two homers and three RBIs. "Andy Pettitte is a phenomenal pitcher, a big-game pitcher. We scored four runs off of him, but it's not like we touched him up. Then Contreras came in and he was strong for one inning and then we just got to him."

One thing Nixon has noticed about these playoff games is how tired he is after each one. "I just wonder to myself, how come I'm not this tired after a regular-season game? It's because these games that mean so much now are not only physically tough, but they're mentally tough," Nixon said.

"The winner of this gets to play in the World Series," he added. "We've seen Roger [Clemens] a lot; they've seen Pedro [Martinez] a lot. It's going to be cold tomorrow, so there's gonna be a baseball game played. It's about more than the two pitchers. It usually comes down to the very last player."

Last night was a good example. Nobody was more insignificant than Trot Nixon until the ninth, when his two-run shot paved the way for peace of mind.

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