By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Tim Wakefield might be the first pitcher in Red Sox history to give up a grand slam at Fenway Park, but also get a standing ovation and cap-tipping moment as he trudged off the mound toward the dugout.
Thats the power of Wakefields endless contributions as the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox, and the milestones that the 44-year-old keeps tossing into his bag like stray golf balls found along the fairway. Wakefield improved to 6-3 on the season with 6 13 innings that saw him bailed out by a strong offensive performance against the lowly Mariners, and eventually survive a 12-8 slugfest at the Fens.
Wake gave up 10 hits and seven earned runs in one of his worst starts of the season, but months and years from now it will be remembered for only two things: the 2000th strikeout in a Red Sox uniform and the 199th victory of his 18 years in a Major League uniform.
"When youve done as much as hes done it seems like every time he pitches there is something to give him an ovation about, said Terry Francona. Its funny. In a situation like today its funny because hes not coming out of the game yet, and Im not quite sure how to react to that. Im thrilled that people are reacting like that, but Im sitting there thinking Ill shake his hand when he comes out of the game."
Wakefield joined Roger Clemens as the only two Red Sox pitchers to amass 2,000 strikeouts while wearing the Red Stockings, and nailed the 2K plateau when he fanned Mike Carp on a foul tip to end the sixth inning. Wake wasnt sure at first what the crowd was cheering about as he stalked off to the home dugout, and only realized the record when Jarrod Saltalamacchia pointed him toward the Fenway jumbotron pronouncing his career achievement.
"It was very emotional for me," Wakefield said. "I had no idea. I saw Salty walking toward me and he said, Congratulations. It was a pretty cool ovation and a pretty cool day today. Any milestone you achieve ranks up there pretty high for me. Two-thousand strikeouts is a very high number and it says something about staying in one place for a long time like I have. Going through ups and downs and being able to persevere over the last 17 years.
The ovation and genuine emotional reaction from Wakefield might have distracted him a bit from his pitching duties in the seventh inning, but it was a Sunday afternoon that was meant to be positive for the knuckler and for the Red Sox. There should be another ovation high on the heels of Wakefields Sunday party as his next win will be the 200th of his career, and something that he mentioned as important to him personally when he decided to keep pitching for the Sox.
Im one step closer. Ive been fortunate this year to pitch as well as I have, said Wakefield. The last couple of starts havent been as great, but Im fortunate to be on a great team where weve been able to get some wins. Ive pitched well when I got back into the rotation, and now its a matter of straightening things out the next time I go out there.
Its all systems go for Jon Lester as he prepares to make his first start in almost a month on Monday night against the Kansas City Royals. The ace lefty hasnt toed the rubber since straining his left lat after four no-hit innings on July 5, and the Sox will be mindful that there is some rust to be kicked off.
Hes pain-free at this point, and Sox manager Terry Francona said the key is to set some guidelines for Lester in his return. The Sox skipper and pitching coach Curt Young will be watching Lesters pitch count against the Royals offense, and its a pretty sure bet Lester wont be getting near 100 pitches in his first time back.
Lester is 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA and a .231 batting average against this season, and his return to the rotation adds to the Red Sox euphoria that comes with their biggest lead over the Yankees in the AL East of the 2011 baseball season (three games).
The biggest thing, we will be watching his workload. Hes come through this about as well as you could have hoped, said Francona. He was completely pain-free when he started throwing and thats what we wanted. Now its about building up endurance. If you let him go throw 120 pitches in his first time out then hes going to be sore, and we dont want that. So its a balance between winning the game and bringing Lester along so he can get on a roll.
When that bell rings hes going to forget about being down for a couple of weeks. Hes going to go out firing and trying to win the game. So weve got to keep an eye on him out there.
Lesters return to the rotation will likely mean that rookie starter Kyle Weiland has his bus ticket punched for a trip back to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Dustin Pedroia extended his career-long hitting streak to 21 games dating back to June 29, and now owns the longest hitting streak in the American League this year. Pedroia is hitting .385 (35-for-91) with 21 runs, seven home runs and 16 RBI during the hot stretch, and has reached base in a career-high 33 straight games for the Sox. Pedroia extended the hitting streak with a double smacked to left-center field to start off the sixth inning for Boston.
Chone Figgins was a last minute scratch for the Seattle Mariners prior to Sundays series finale, and multiple reports from the Ms media crew had the struggling utility guy missing the game for personal reasons".
The Red Sox scored 10-plus runs for the 14th time this season extending their Major League lead for such games and already matching their total from last season. Boston has not lost when scoring 10 runs or more this season.
I think its the best lineup Ive ever played with here in Boston, said Wakefield. When you look at the quality one-through-nine in the lineup from Ellsbury all the way to Scutaro. Everybody has pitched in and done their part considering the start we got off to in April. Everybody has responded and shown what were capable of doing.
Carl Crawford had some sympathy for the Seattle Mariners as they depart Boston having been swept in three straight games at Fenway Park, and amidst a 15-game losing streak that has become epic in its futility. The Sox outfielder remembers the days of the Devil Rays in Tampa when his ballclub would customarily lose 100 games a season, and struggle to maintain morale as the defeats piled up on each other.
Those Devil Rays days when we lost 100 games . . . Im not sure if it was 15, but Im pretty sure we lost something close to that, said Crawford. I can feel it and understand what Seattle is going through a little bit. Its terrible. When you have a stretch like that its tough to get up and go to the field every day. Pretty much everything is bad.
Terry Francona has a long history in the game of baseball, and his connection with all three Major League Baseball figures going into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend -- Pat Gillick, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven -- was strong.
Former Mariners and Blue Jays general manager Gillick interviewed Francona for a vacant managing job with Seattle a conversation that figured directly into the timeline for the Sox skippers health issues prior to getting the managing job with the Sox.
I told him he asked me too many tough questions and he almost put me under, Francona smirked.
Francona played winter ball with Alomar and came away impressed with the fluid, natural athletic skills of the best second basemen of his era.
The Sox skipper said watching a young Blyleven pitch was a coming of age baseball story for the manager and his big league father.
I saw Bert pitch in 1970 when I went on a road trip with my dad, and I was about 11 years old and he threw a two-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers, said Francona. Thats when I think my dad knew I was paying attention. Because I came into the clubhouse and said Dad, you had no chance of hitting that curveball tonight, so he knew that I was watching.
I faced him a few times when I was a little bit older and got a few hits against him. He was still pretty good, but I think he was about 40 years old at that point.
Francona was still glowing after collecting the 1000th win of his Major League managerial career on Saturday night. (He had also sufficiently dried off from the beer shower given to him by David Ortiz following the victory.)
The Sox skipper remained humble about the accomplished citing the huge number of victories that Tony LaRussa has amassed (2,691) in his big league career and mentioned the calls and text messages he received from those near and dear to him.
The prevailing thought is that people are surprised that Im still here. I heard that more than anything. I got some nice messages from some people that mean a lot to me, said Francona. That probably meant more to me than anything else. I was honored and I was proud, but Im a lot more comfortable talking about our guys and our team. Thats the way it should be. But it did make me feel good.
There werent a lot of great explanations from the Sox skipper for a clearly dominant seventh inning performance from his baseball team thats lasted all season long. The Sox have outscored their opposition by a 93-33 margin in the seventh innings of games, the most dominant inning for the Olde Towne Team this year.
"I saw the stat and there cant be just one answer. I think there is more than one answer. Maybe when we get rallies going we prolong them pretty well and we turn them into crooked numbers, said Francona. Maybe we get to a point in the game where were changing pitchers and we have a lead, so they dont bring in their top tier guys. I dont know.
Maybe its just a coincidence. Getting through a good lineup that third time is hard. Our guys do a good job of seeing pitches, so something that got you out in the first at bat might not get you out in the third at bat.