BOSTON -- Tim Wakefield will turn 45 later this summer, and in a concession to his age, does not move as fast as he once did.
A number of injuries, including a back ailment which required a surgical procedure after the 2009 season, have slowed him some. It's part of the aging process. The pace has been taken down a notch. Even the wins don't come as quickly as they once did.
That's largely a result of a changing role, which has Wakefield mostly pitching out of the bullpen in long relief, and often only when the game has already gotten out of hand.
But every once in a while, the Red Sox call on him to make a start again, to fill in for an injured member of the rotation. They've done so three times this year already and twice now, he's pitched brilliantly.
The first time, he outpitched reigning Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez, but was left with a no-decision when the Sox offense stalled while he was on the mound.
Sunday night, both he and the Boston lineup were good enough to earn his first win of the season and first since Sept. 8, 2010, more than eight months ago.
The drought stretched across 14 appearances, the longest of his career. And like everything else at this stage, it was welcomed with more appreciation by Wakefield.
"On the personal side, every win is precious,'' he said. "But as long as the team wins . . . that's the most important thing.''
The victory was the 194th of his career, inching him closer to 200 career wins. His goal of becoming the all-time winningest pitcher in Red Sox history has likely been dashed -- he sits at 180, needing 13 more to top Roger Clemens and Cy Young and his contract is up at the end of this season with no guarantee the Red Sox will invite him to return for 2011.
But regardless of the end goal, each win can be savored now, because there is no guarantee that they are going to continue. He left to a standing ovation, and in recognition, tipped his cap.
Wakefield was extremely efficient Sunday, averaging fewer than nine pitches an inning through the first three frames. In the seventh, when he allowed a leadoff double by Starlin Castro, a long flyout to the warning track in right to Carlos Pena and a run-scoring double to Jeff Baker, it was clear that he was leaving pitches up in the zone.
Even then, after 6 23 innings, he had thrown just 75 pitches, largely saving the Boston bullpen.
"That's the thing that we all admire about him,'' said Dustin Pedroia. "We asked him to step in two or three times this year so far and every time he's come out and thrown the ball great. He's accepted the role and he's a first-class guy. That's why we all love him.''
"He was terrific,'' marveled Terry Francona. "The role's changed a little bit now, but what a lift that gives us. You throw a guy in there when somebody's hurt and he's so professional. I guess it shouldn't amaze us because he's been doing it for such a long time.''
Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves are temporary additions to the Red Sox rotation, filling in for the injured Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. In two starts this weekend, the two combined to limit the Cubs to just two runs over 11 23 innings.
If the Sox get those kind of outings until the others return, they'll be in fine shape. In the meantime, Tim Wakefield intends to take it all in. If this is to be his victory lap, it's nice to get some actual victories along the way.