COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) – Minor leaguer Derek Nicholson hit a two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday, sending the Detroit Tigers to a 6-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox in the annual Hall of Fame game.

Nicholson, who plays for the Class A Lakeland Tigers of the Florida State League, sent a 1-0 pitch from reliever Barry Hertzler of the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League over the fence in left-center field. It was his only hit in four at-bats.

“It was very exciting. I was just happy for him,” said Carlos Pena, who was 4-for-4, scored two runs and hit a home run to earn the game’s most valuable player honors. “I was just trying to relax and have fun.” It marked the third straight year the game was not played during induction weekend, but it hardly mattered. Tickets this year sold out in record time – demand was exhausted in one day. And the sellout crowd of 9,773 was jammed with Boston fans, transforming the stands at Doubleday Field into a sea of red and making it seem like a home game for the Red Sox, who won the World Series last fall for the first time in 86 years.

The Tigers took a 2-0 lead with two outs in the first inning against Anibel Sanchez, called up for the game from the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Pena and Marcus Thames singled, and Craig Monroe’s bad-hop grounder up the middle scooted past second baseman Mark Bellhorn to score Pena. Ramon Martinez singled to drive in Thames.

Pena made it 3-0 with an opposite-field homer to left in the third inning off Sanchez.

Boston finally broke through against Mark Johnson in the fifth. Shawn Wooten reached on an error with one out, and scored on singles by Michael Lockwood and Hanley Ramirez.

Rondell White homered over the 390-foot sign in center in the fifth for a 4-1 lead.

Johnson, who allowed one run in five innings, lost a chance at the win when the Red Sox tied the score in the seventh off Luis Gil, normally an infielder.

Christian Lara was hit by a pitch leading off, and one out later Lockwood hit a 3-2 pitch over the short fence in right as the Red Sox closed to 4-3. Willy Mota followed with a solo homer.

The traditional home-run contest staged before the game proved to be no contest. After spraying home runs to all fields during his warmup swings, David Ortiz of the Red Sox hit a record-breaking eight in his 10 official swings. He hit his last one, a drive that barely cleared the wall in right, with a broken bat to the oohs and ahs of the partisan crowd.

“We’re just trying to have fun out there, it’s a show,” said Ortiz, who broke the single-round record of seven set two years ago by Ben Grieve and Travis Lee of Tampa Bay.

Johnny Damon finished with four homers, and Jay Payton had three for the Red Sox. Dmitri Young and Monroe each hit six and Thames had three for the Tigers.

Kevin Millar, nursing an injury to his left foot, remained in street clothes for the game. But unlike many players who would rather have had the day off, he was excited to be in baseball’s mecca because of the atmosphere.

“A lot of the Sox nation just want to say thanks,” said Millar, who hoped to tour the Hall of Fame before the team left for Toronto. “It’s a special time. It’s going to be talked about for a long time.”

Prior to the game, the World Series trophy made its way down Main Street in a horsedrawn carriage and was greeted with raucous applause as thousands of Red Sox fans stood along the tree-lined route through the heart of the village.

“This is huge, fantastic,” said 45-year-old Kevin Coughlan of Chelmsford, Mass. “I’ve been waiting my whole life. This was just worth making a special trip. We never would have been here otherwise, and we’ll be back, guaranteed.”

Coughlan said he planned the trip three months ago and brought along 10 family members, including his 11-year-old son Matthew.

“This is worth it, him missing one day of school,” Coughlan said. “There’s nothing that can replace this.”

AP-ES-05-23-05 1731EDT


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