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Utilityman Jayson Nix has his opportunity

Jayson Nix looks on after flying out to

Jayson Nix looks on after flying out to end the second inning of Game 2 of the ALCS. (Oct. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Before he ran out to replace an injured Derek Jeter at shortstop in the 12th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS early Sunday morning, Jayson Nix was best known -- if he was known at all -- for a link with another injured Yankees icon.

It was Nix who hit the batting-practice ball that Mariano Rivera tried to shag with a leap on the warning track in Kansas City on May 3. Rivera suffered a season-ending knee injury.

On Sunday, Nix replaced Jeter in the starting lineup for Game 2 of the ALCS. He went 0-for-3 in the Yankees' 3-0 loss to the Tigers.

"It's an opportunity," Nix said. "I've been through a lot in my career and fought to try to establish myself. It's an opportunity I have to do something."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has not anointed Nix as the everyday shortstop for the rest of the postseason; he also could use Eduardo Nuñez there. But Nix is more sure-handed and has shown some pop in his two playoff starts.

Nix went 2-for-3 with a double in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Orioles before being removed for a pinch hitter. On Sunday, he hit a ball to the warning track in left, grounded to third and, in the seventh, struck out with the potential tying run on base to end the inning. He deftly handled all six balls hit his way.

Jeter will miss the rest of the postseason after fracturing his left ankle at about 12:45 a.m. Sunday in the ALCS opener while diving for a grounder. The Captain leaves huge cleats to fill, and the man who will step into them didn't make the Yankees out of spring training but became an important utility player as the season went on.

"He has done it all year for us," Girardi said. "I like Nixey's at-bats and he is a grinder. He is one of the guys that got us here."

Getting here took a while. Nix, 30, was picked 44th overall in the 2001 draft by Colorado but didn't make his major-league debut until 2008. He bounced around from the Rockies to the White Sox to the Indians to the Blue Jays before signing with the Yankees as a minor-league free agent last Nov. 23.

"I was able to come here and make the most of it and stick here," he said. "This year has been one of the most fun years I've had in the big leagues. To be able to come here and fill the role with this team and be around these group of guys has been very special."

Nix played for Team USA in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He homered in the third game against Cuba but missed the rest of the Games after fouling a ball off his left eye.

Nix is a Dallas native who went to Midland High School in West Texas -- "Friday Night Lights" country and hometown of former first lady Laura Bush.

After the Olympics, Nix went to the White House with the Olympic team and met then-President George W. Bush. According to an account, after chatting with Nix, Bush shouted to the first lady, "Laura, Midland High School here."

Nix's older brother, Laynce, is an outfielder with the Phillies.

Jayson Nix's lifetime batting average is .214 after he hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats this season. His career high in at-bats is the 363 he had with the White Sox and Indians in 2010.

He was a late addition to the ALDS roster after he missed the season's final six games because of a strained left hip flexor. He beat out Nuñez for a spot. Nuñez was added to the roster in Jeter's place for the rest of the ALCS.

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