McAdam: It was quite a ride for Wakefield

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McAdam: It was quite a ride for Wakefield

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the Red Sox rescued Tim Wakefield from the scrap heap in 1995, no one -- not then-general manager Dan Duquette, nor Wakefield himself -- could have forecast that his career with the team would last another 17 seasons.

At the time, Wakefield had just been released by the Pittsburgh Pirates after a season in which he was, arguably, the worst pitcher in pro ball. Consigned to Triple A Buffalo, Wakefield had either led the league or came dangerously close to leading the league in virtually every negative category: wild pitches, walks, hits allowed and ERA.

Wakefield was so bad that it wasn't clear he could pitch in the minor leagues, let alone the majors.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that "there are no second acts in American lives,'' but Wakefield proved that false. On the brink of athletic extinction, Wakefield played for parts of three decades and came close to retiring as the winningest pitcher for a franchise whose history dates back more than a century.

That's a pretty good second act, no?

Wakefield's long travelogue -- from out-of-nowhere postseason phenom in 1992 to nearly out of baseball three years later, to pitching in parts of three decades for the Red Sox -- ended Friday when the pitcher announced his retirement.

Along the way, he won two World Series, logged more innings and recorded more strikeouts than all but a few Red Sox pitchers in history, and got himself mentioned with the likes of Cy Young and Roger Clemens.

He made an All-Star team near the end of his career, got himself into the record books and won 200 games in the big leagues, almost all of them after he had every reason to believe that his career was over almost as quickly as it began.

It could be said, actually, that Wakefield not only had a second act, but really, a third, since he was almost released by the Pirates once before at Single A when it was determined that he wasn't going to make it as a first baseman.

An alert instructor in the Pirates' organization mentioned that Wakefield had toyed with a knuckleball on the side and perhaps, he should be given a chance to make it as a pitcher.

Two hundred major-league wins later, that seems like a prescient call.

Wakefield played for five managers and too many pitching coaches to count, some of whom who were clearly unsure how to, well, coach him and his enigmatic, signature pitch.

After winning 59 games in his first four seasons, Wakefield was, much to his displeasure, shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation. When Tom Gordon blew out his elbow in 1999, Wakefield took over as closer and saved 15 games.

Too often, though, Wakefield would relieve one day, fill in as a starter two days later and be back in the bullpen a day after that.

More than once -- and not without reason -- he proclaimed: "They're abusing my versatility.''

His career bridges two distinct eras in Red Sox history: pre-Glory Days, when the franchise was mired in disappointment and heartbreak, and post-World Series triumphs, when, for a period of about five years, they were the sport's model franchise.

He was the one Red Sox player in modern history to have been on a losing team (78-84 in 1997) and two title winners. Like his trademark pitch, Wakefield was up, down and everywhere in between in his 17 seasons in a Red Sox uniform.

Somewhat cruelly, his role in the 2004 and 2007 postseason was slight. In Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, with the Sox on the verge of being ignominiously swept by the Yankees, Wakefield volunteered to pitch in relief of beleaguered starter Bronson Arroyo, thereby forfeiting his own start in Game 5. He started Game 1 of the World Series and couldn't get out of the fourth inning.

In 2007, after one start in the ALCS, he was left off the World Series because of an injury.

But each season, Wakefield helped the Red Sox get there, contributing 188 13 innings in 2004 and 189 in 2007.

Along the way, whether scarred by his release or in fear of the wholly unpredictable nature of pitch with which he made his living, Wakefield seemed gripped by insecurity, suggesting he was somehow unaware of his own permanence.

But the list of players who lasted more seasons in a Red Sox uniform is a short one, and filled with immortals: Ted Williams (19 seasons), Dwight Evans (19 seasons) and Carl Yastrzemski (23 seasons).

His final season with the Red Sox was tainted by a seemingly endless quest for career victory No. 200, which he reached on his ninth try. At times, instead of a remarkable achievement, it seemed more like a task to be crossed off the organization's to-do list.

That uncomfortable environment, more than anything, is probably why the Red Sox did not elect to bring Wakefield back for his 18th season, one in which he could have become the franchise's all-time winningest pitcher.

Wakefield, in a moment he surely wishes he could have back, told FoxSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi late last September that the fans "deserved'' to see him come back and go for the club record -- just as the Red Sox were finishing off one of the worst months in franchise history.

So Wakefield heads off into retirement, short on credentials for Cooperstown and tantalizingly close to the record for most wins by a Red Sox pitcher.

Still, it's not a bad legacy for a player to have won 200 games and two championships plus the reputation for being arguably the most charitable and philanthropic player in modern Red Sox history.

Not bad at all, in fact, for an American life in its third act.

Paul George still with Pacers, but admits it's been a 'very different' season

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Paul George still with Pacers, but admits it's been a 'very different' season

BOSTON – It’s easy to forget that it was just three years ago Paul George was part of a strong Indiana Pacers nucleus that was in the Eastern Conference finals and took the LeBron James-led Miami Heat to seven games.

Things have changed dramatically for the 6-foot-9 George who is leading a Pacers team that’s fighting just to be in the playoffs, a team that just a month ago he wasn’t sure he would even be a part of due to trade rumors that included him potentially being traded to Boston.

"It's been a different year for Paul," said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan. "The last few years he played with a group of guys that are no longer with him. Having to establish and lead this new group, it's the first time for him. As well as being concerned about his play. It's growth for him. That doesn't happen overnight. Sometimes that takes a little time."

George, playing in Boston for the first time tonight since the NBA trade deadline passed, acknowledged there was a sense of relief when Feb. 23 came and went and he remained a Pacer.

“It was great from the sense of the outside stuff,” George said. “Not for myself. Again, where I was, is where I was gonna be at. I was gonna make the most out of it. It was just good to put that to rest. To have to keep answering those questions. Or, to keep avoiding those questions, to where I could just focus on what's at hand. And that's trying to at least solidify the six spot, if not move up going down the stretch. Man, we're close to the seventh, we're close to the eighth seed. At this point, it's how can we get a little distance going into the playoffs.”

The Celtics (44-26) have a similar approach to tonight’s game. They come in currently second in the East to Cleveland by two games, and lead Washington by 2.5. The lead over the Wizards will likely increase with most of Washington’s remaining games on the road with a large chunk as part of their final long road trip that begins in Cleveland and then takes them out West where they’ll face the Los Angeles Clippers, the Utah Jazz and cap it off with a road battle at Golden State.

As for George, the trade rumors – a first for him since being a Pacer – weren’t the worst part about this season.

Adapting to a series of new roles, expectations and a relatively new group of teammates, has been difficult for George.

“It's been very different. It's probably been one of the toughest seasons for me,” George said. “Just naturally being a leader. Being the last Pacer with the group that I came in with. And just being in that Eastern Conference finals roster, I'm the last guy on that roster. So, it's been different. I've grown into a different role. Becoming a different leader. And you know, you always re-live them glory days. And when they're gone, it's the last little bit that you remember. So I'm trying to bring that to this team and that edge. But it's taken some time and there's a toll.”

George remains one of the NBA’s best players, evident by the coaches selecting the 26-year-old to his fourth All-Star team last month.

Being an elite player while patiently waiting for the Pacers to improve as a group, has not been easy.

“That's really what's been the toughest part for me,” George said. “Usually I had two jobs; be the best defender and the best scorer. Now it's be the leader. Be the toughness guy. Be the enforcer. It's just a lot of roles that I had to pick up this season and that's what's been the toll. That's what's been the roughest part of it, is how do you put energy in every bit of places. I've grown with it. I've gotten better throughout the season, as the season's gone on. Different matchups gone on. How to approach different teams. But it's been a task. It's been a test. It's been a test to learn.”

Part of that growth individually and as a team involves nights like this when the Pacers face a team like Boston which they could potentially see next month in the first round of the playoffs.

“We have to approach tonight like it's gonna be a playoff battle,” George said. “Celtics (are) not gonna be a team that's gonna let up. They're fighting for positioning as well, I think they're second right now (in the East) and Washington's on their heels. So, they're fighting for playoff positioning and seeding as much as we are. So it's gonna be an intense game.”

Malcolm Butler on Instagram: 'Nothing changed but the change'

Malcolm Butler on Instagram: 'Nothing changed but the change'

We haven't heard from cornerback Malcolm Butler as his future as a Patriot hangs in the balance after his visit with the New Orleans Saints last week.

Butler,  a restricted free agent who has yet to sign the $3.91 million tender offered by the Patriots, posted a photo Wednesday on Instagram with the cryptic message "Nothing changed but the change," which happens to be a lyric from a song titled "Could It Be" by rapper Nick Lyon. So, perhaps a change of teams is being referred to.

"Nothing changed but the change" #BLESSED

A post shared by Malcolm CB Butler (@mac_bz) on

More to come...