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The Emotions of Sports: The moment

The SCV’s own Kevin Millar had one at-bat that will live forever in history

Posted: August 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Kevin Millar, left, was raised as a youth in the Santa Clarita Valley. After a 12-year Major League career, he has become an analyst for the MLB Network.

 

Bottom of the ninth.

Down 4-3 to the hated archrival.

The best closer, many say, in baseball history is on the mound.

Fenway Park.

Lose and you go home.

Lose and it’s an 87th year of bitter, bitter disappointment for a group of fans and city dubbed “Red Sox Nation.”

And the batter was Kevin Millar.

Millar’s early years were spent in the Santa Clarita Valley.

He won a Bronco World Series for the William S. Hart PONY League in 1984.

He was a self-confessed bench warmer on the Hart High freshman baseball team who later moved to Westwood with his mother and went to University High in Los Angeles.

Millar was a grinder — a junior college baseball player, a baseball player for unheralded Lamar University, a dues payer in the minor leagues, a replacement player during the Major League Baseball strike of 1994-95, and a 12-year high-energy, affable Major Leaguer.

He was always considered someone who maximized his talent and more.

“I always was a little baseball player,” he says. “I always loved baseball. That’s all I lived for. I played Wiffle Ball, hit rocks at dad’s house out there in Placerita Canyon, so I’ve always loved it. So I kept going.”

Millar says when he was growing up in the Santa Clarita Valley, his favorite team was the nearby Los Angeles Dodgers.
He had a favorite player, too — slugger and 1981 World Series co-MVP Pedro Guerrero.

Millar says he used to day dream about being Guerrero, placed in the pressure cooker of the big game.

For Boston, the biggest game of every season up to 2004 was the one that had the potential of being the last.

And on Oct. 17, 2004, that game was Game 4 of the American League Championship Series with the Yankees up 3-0 and one inning away from going to the World Series.

Now, we go into the mind of Kevin Millar as he tells the story:

“It’s a situation where you’re not nervous. It’s just an excitement. It’s a Major League game — Major League playoff game, all the marbles on the table. So it’s a special excitement.

It’s exactly what you’ve been doing since you were a little kid in the backyard acting like you’re Pedro Guerrero for the Dodgers or whatever.

And now it’s you.

There’s a little kid somewhere acting like he’s Kevin Millar facing Mariano Rivera.

It’s weird to say that, but that’s the truth.

Mariano Rivera’s on the mound, and there’s no nerves in terms of being nervous or scared or fear.
It’s being excited thinking you’re going to hit a home run.

It’s thinking, ‘What can you do to help this team? How do I get on base?’

All those emotions, because now you’re a man, so you just somehow bottle that excitement and put it into one at-bat.
In my head, it’s going 145 mph.

Derek Jeter’s head, when he’s in a playoff situation, is going about 50. That’s all the great players. They have a way of slowing down their heart rate. So mine in that situation was a little slower than 2003 because that was my first year in the playoffs.

That’s the difference with experience.

We always talk about experience, which I always thought was overrated.

Guys when we came up with the Marlins said, ‘Experience is overrated. Blah, blah.’

But guys like Mike Lowell and myself, who came up with the Marlins, once you get to the playoffs the first time you realize, ‘Wow, your heart rate’s a bazillion and you’re trying to do so much.’

I guess it was just the fact that facing Mariano so many times, he was in our division, we played him in ’03 and ’04, I faced him a thousand times, the matchup I thought favored us.

I always hit Mariano well.

I always had good numbers on Mariano, so it wasn’t a guy who dominated me.

It wasn’t like it was Randy Johnson facing me, who I think I struck out 30 of the 50 times I faced him.
Mariano, I knew something could happen.

Ironically he ended up walking me. 

I had one good swing in that at-bat and that was a 1-0 pitch I tried to homer on and gave it a bloody towel (foul ball) over there down the third base line.

But after that, he didn’t throw a strike.

Everyone asks me what I was thinking.

I was thinking home run.

When you’re a right handed hitter at Fenway and you get in that box and there’s a guy throwing 92, 3, 4, 5, I’m thinking pull a homer off the Coke bottle (sign over the left field wall).

So that was my thought process, if I can get a home run. If I get a pitch, I’m going to get a homer, but I walked.”

That walk ignited one of the most incredible chain of events in baseball history.

Millar was removed for fleet-footed pinch runner Dave Roberts, who then stole second base.

Bill Mueller then knocked him home with a single, tying the score at 4-4.

In the bottom of the 12th inning, David Ortiz hit a two-run home run to win the game 6-4.

The Red Sox then took the next three games.

They became the first club in Major League history to come back from a three-games-to-none deficit and win a playoff series.

Boston then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to win their first world championship in 86 years — breaking the “Curse of the Bambino” and ending one of sports longest-ever championship droughts.

And it all started with Millar’s walk.

Millar says when he was at the plate that he didn’t feel the weight of a city, or miserable long-suffering fans on his shoulders during the at-bat.

He was calm.

“That stuff is for the script and the media,” Millar says of the weight. “You don’t feel that as a player going through that. You know you’re leading off. You know you’re down one. You know you’re down three games. You’re just trying to do something, trying to get in a hitter’s count and drive a ball somewhere. There’s no emotion.”

Today, Millar lives in Austin, Tex.

He’s a husband, father and an analyst for the MLB Network.

And thanks to one at-bat, and some other special moments, he’s a folk hero in Boston.

“You felt like you were touching people’s lives and generations’ lives and grandparents’ lives,” Millar says. “The pain they were always feeling. The Yankees winning. At the end, the script was never right, so you were a part of the right script for the first time in history. No matter how many more championships (the Red Sox) win, it’s pretty neat to sit back now because it slows down once you’re done playing, you go, ‘Wow, I was part of that club and a big part of that club, and I think those guys will be remembered forever.”

And because of that, Kevin Millar doesn’t ever have to buy a drink in Boston again.

“Sometimes you do. Some of those people are cheap,” he laughs. “No, it’s pretty neat. Seriously, their arms are wide open.”

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