September 14, 2014

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Tribe notes: Wedge trots out veteran for Game 6

BOSTON — Eric Wedge played the Trot Nixon card again Saturday night.
The Indians manager has gone to the veteran Nixon on a number of occasions this postseason, most often with favorable results, hoping for the same in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series when he started him in right field over Franklin Gutierrez.
“It gives us a little more experience in there,” Wedge said. “He knows right field here. It gets a left-handed bat in there, his presence at Fenway Park, all of that. Let’s see what happens.”
Good things had happened prior to Saturday, with Nixon, who spent the first eight seasons of his career in Boston before signing with Cleveland in the offseason, batting .375 (3-for-8) with a homer and three RBIs in three games — two starts. He went 2-for-4 with a home run off Roger Clemens in his first start (Game 3 of the ALDS), and as a pinch hitter drove in the game-winning run in Game 2 of the ALCS at Fenway Park.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez has struggled to find his stroke in the postseason, entering Saturday at .160 (4-for-25) in nine games — .133 (2-for-15) in five ALCS games. Still, Gutierrez was the starter in right over the final two months of the regular season, and this is the third time in the postseason that he has been on the bench at first pitch.
“Everybody’s here for the same reason, which is to win this game (Saturday),” Wedge said. “Whatever we feel gives us the best chance to do that, that’s what we’re going to do. There’s always going to be disappointment. Everybody wants to play.”
Boston also made a lineup change, starting Jacoby Ellsbury over Coco Crisp in center field.
Crisp, a former Indian, started all eight of Boston’s postseason games prior to Saturday, hitting just .161 (5-for-31). He hit .143 (3-for-21) without an RBI and six strikeouts in the first five ALCS games.

Ailing ace

Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis does not think a tired arm is at the root of postseason problems for ace C.C. Sabathia, who has thrown 2551/3 innings — well over his career-high count of 210 in 2002.
“I don’t think so,” Willis said. “The velocity is still there. Pitchers go through certain periods of time, and when you go through a down period and it happens in the postseason you open yourself to a lot of criticism or questions.
“If this had been happening in June, probably not as much attention is given towards it.”
Sabathia, who is 1-2 with an 8.80 ERA in three playoff outings, said fatigue has not been a factor in his playoff slide.
“I feel strong,” Sabathia said. “It doesn’t feel like I’ve thrown a lot of innings. I can’t really point to that as the reason I haven’t pitched well.”

Fan frenzy

Storied Fenway Park offers what is considered to be a significant home-field advantage, with the fans in close proximity to players and dimensions like no other ballpark in the majors.
“There’s a lot of tradition here,” Wedge said. “But that’s not something I put a tremendous amount of focus on. I think our guys do a good job of blocking that stuff out.”
Boston catcher Jason Varitek said the white-towel-waving crowds in Cleveland for Games
3-5 were actually louder than the ones at Fenway. Jacobs Field holds 43,415 fans, while Fenway’s capacity is 36,336.  
“They were fantastic,” said Wedge of the fans in Cleveland.

Swing and a miss

The Indians entered Saturday with the opportunity to equal a dubious postseason record by striking out 10 or more times in four consecutive games. They struck out 34 times over three straight games prior to Game 6.
“We’ve always been a team that has its share of strikeouts,” Wedge said of his club, which posted the third-highest strikeout total (1,202) in the American League. “We want to make sure that the damage comes along with it.”
One of the team’s top run producers, Travis Hafner, entered Saturday with six strikeouts in his last eight at-bats (eight times during the series), but Wedge predicted a breakout performance from his designated hitter in Game 6.
“Travis is going to have a big game for us,” he said.

Roundin’ third

The Indians entered Saturday having won Game 6 of the ALCS on the road the past two times they advanced to the World Series — beating Seattle (1995) and Baltimore (’97) before losing the Fall Classic on both occasions.
Cleveland entered Saturday
4-3 against the Red Sox in postseason play at Fenway Park, 11-6 overall. Boston had won seven of its last nine playoff games at Fenway.
Signs that read, “Be alert. Foul balls and bats hurt,” are posted in front of the front row of box seats at Fenway.
Contact Chris Assenheimer
at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.