BOSTON Tim Wakefield is baseballs active leader in wins with 193. He is third all-time in Red Sox wins, with 179, behind only Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who are tied with 192. Wakefield, baseballs oldest active player who will turn 45 in August and has been relegated to bullpen duty, knows adding on to either of those totals will not be easy.
Making his first start of the season Sunday against the Mariners at Fenway Park, though, gave him such an opportunity. Although he had pitched a total of just two innings since April 11 when he went 3 13 against Tampa Bay, Wakefield left the mound Sunday to a standing ovation after going 5 23 innings, with the Sox leading by two runs. He left with two outs and a runner on first after giving up just his third hit, with a walk and three strikeouts. He ably matched Seattle ace and the reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez.
He ought to be proud of himself, said manager Terry Francona. That was some kind of effort. The whole ideas to win the game. But you have some concerns going into the game because he hasnt been stretched out and you dont want to ruin the bullpen. He gave us more than we could ask for.
But Bobby Jenks, who has struggled mightily in his brief tenure with the Sox, quickly gave back the lead, facing five batters and surrendering two runs and any chance of Wakefield adding to his win total, even as the Sox got their first walk-off win of the season in the ninth inning when Carl Crawfords two-out single scored Jed Lowrie who had tripled.
We knew we had a tough competitor, Hernandez, out there today, obviously, said Wakefield, who lowered his ERA from 5.56 to 4.24. He won the Cy Young last year and hes got great stuff and led all of baseball in almost every pitching category last year. But were a good team and we got to believe in that. We were able to show that even Cy Young winners can be beat.
With the win, the Sox avoided a sweep by the Mariners, who took the first two games of the series.
It was huge for us to win considering we played pretty decent the last couple of days and unfortunately we came out on the bottom, Wakefield said. Saturday night especially, John Lackey pitched great, lost 2-0. But its huge. Were home for a while. If we can win at home and keep going like we did early on the road trip, last trip when the Sox went 6-3, and well see where its going to take us.
His team got the win, but Wakefield didnt. The knuckleballer was not disappointed, though.
No, I actually was shocked that I got into the sixth inning, to be honest with you after only throwing a maximum of three-plus innings in spring training and I think that was a couple outings ago I went three-plus against Tampa at home, Wakefield said. So I didnt know where my limit was. And Tito and I talked about it Saturday. So for me to go and get into the sixth inning I actually felt really, really good.
Wakefield, who threw 76 pitches, 53 for strikes, knew going into the inning, that he would likely be done if he allowed a baserunner. After striking out Ichiro Suzuki to open the inning, and getting Chone Figgins to pop out to Adrian Gonzalez at first, Ryan Langerhans singled into right, ending Wakefields afternoon.
I assumed that, Wakefield said. It wasnt said but Francona asked me how I felt. I said good. But I knew going in at the end of that previous inning if one guy got on, I was probably out.
"Talked to him after the fifth and he knew he was on a little bit of a short leash, Francona said. Part of its because he didn't want to lose the game. He didn't deserve to lose that game. Really liked the Jenks match-up with Miguel Olivo who singled. It didnt work out the way we wanted it.
I think Wake knew what we were doing. I didn't want to get into a situation in the game where he hasn't been in a long time to make a mistake and because of that lose the game.
Wakefield had made seven previous appearances this season, spanning 11 13 innings, all out of the bullpen. Its a role he's had to adjust to over the last few seasons as his opportunities to start have dwindled. Sundays start filling in for Clay Buchholz, who did not feel well Saturday and whose start was moved to Monday was Wakefields first since Oct. 2 against the Yankees. He does not know when hell get another. Despite learning of his start on short notice, he did not make any special adjustments.
I just used it and knew what my role was, he said. Just try to keep us in the game as long as possible. I was able to do that because I knew the bullpen had been abused the last couple of days and they needed some rest. So I did what I needed to do.
With the start, Wakefield became just the fifth American League pitcher ever to start at least one game in 17 consecutive seasons for the same team, joining Chicagos Ted Lyons, who did so over 20 seasons, from 1923-1942, and Red Faber (20, 1949-1961), Clevelands Mel Harder (18, 1930-1947) and Washingtons Walter Johnson (21, 1907-1927).
In 17 seasons with the team, Wakefield is well aware of his spot in Red Sox history and the names of the pitchers ahead of him on the all-time wins list. But hell wait till much further down the road before he tries to put his career into any kind of historical perspective.
I dont rate stuff like that, he said. I knew this year its just my job and Im happy to do it and today was one of those days where I was asked to fill in for somebody. I did the best that I could with what I had.
"I push it off for down the road. Its something that, I tell people that youre in the grind, youre in survival mode your whole career and I have been my whole career. Even during the course of the season youre in survival mode. Youre just trying to win today and worry about tomorrow when tomorrows come. When its all said and done, Ill look back and reflect on the things that Ive accomplished and the things that I did today here or whatever.
Its gratifying to be able to have good results, obviously, and to be able to go deep in the game. Thats one thing you strive on. Other than that, some things are out of your control.
For now, Wakefield wants to look forward, not back.
You drive looking out the window, not the rearview mirror, he said. Thats why they make rearview mirrors so small, because you dont want to drive looking at that the whole time. Thats probably what Im getting at.
He watched the bottom of the ninth from the clubhouse, knowing, he said, how it would end.
Absolutely, he said. "Absolutely. Perfect ending to a great game.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen