One of the most remarkable, and historic, careers in Red Sox history came to an end Friday afternoon, when Tim Wakefield announced his retirement.
Wakefield, 45, who has played for the Sox for 17 years and holds the franchise records for innings pitched (3,095), appearances (590) and games started (442), held a press conference at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. He retires with exactly 200 career victories, including 186 as a member of the Red Sox . . . trailing only Roger Clemens and Cy Young, each of whom won 192.
Ex-teammate Derek Lowe, who lives in Fort Myers, attended the press conference, along with current Sox players Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Kevin Youkilis.
"This has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do. So, it is with a heavy heart that I say I have decided to retire from the game of baseball," said Wakefield, who later added: "Thank you to the Red Sox for giving me the best time of my life."
Wakefield also thanked the Red Sox fans:
"You are the greatest fans in the world. I have enjoyed every minute I have played for you. I appreciate every moment we have shared over the years and I will hold each one of you close to my heart."
A Dan Duquette free-agent pickup in 1995, after he'd been released by the Pirates, Wakefield burst onto the scene with 14 wins in first 15 decisions as a member of the Sox. He finished 18-6 with a 2.95 ERA in a performance that earned him the Comeback Player of the Year award, garnered him votes in both the Cy Young and MVP balloting, and helped Boston run away with the A.L. East crown.
That started the fourth-longest career in franchise history -- only Carl Yastrzemski (23 years), Ted Williams (19) and Dwight Evans (19) played longer in Boston -- that included more postseason appearances (eight) than any other Sox. Over the years he was a staff ace, a closer, and virtually everything in between, as he filled whatever role his managers assigned him.
Wakefield had two 17-win seasons (1998 and 2007) and one 16-win season (2005) after his '95 breakthrough, and is often cited as one of the unsung heroes of the greatest comeback in baseball history. In Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, he pitched 3 13 innings in relief during the 19-8 loss to the Yankees and was credited by manager Terry Francona with saving the bullpen and setting up the four straight wins that followed. He was the winning pitcher in Boston's 14-inning, Game 5 victory, and -- with several of his teammates -- took a bottle of champagne to the Yankee Stadium mound after Game 7 to not only toast the victory, but erase the memory of the game- and series-losing home run he'd allowed to Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
More importantly, he contributed more time and money to charity than virtually any player in Red Sox history. He won MLB's Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who "who best reflects the spirit of giving back to the community", in 2010.
His last winning season was 2009, when he went 11-5 with a 4.58 ERA and earned his only All-Star berth. He struggled over the last two years (4-10, 5.32, in 2010; 7-8, 5.12, in 2011) and the Sox only offered him a non-roster invitation to spring training this season. Rather than fight for a place on the team, he decided to retire.
"To be honest, I think this is what is best for the Red Sox, what is best for my family," said Wakefield, later adding: "For me, it was the right decision to make."