BOSTON -- Every victory for Tim Wakefield these days is important to the 44-year-old knuckleballer, even if he won't say he's looking at the record books.
With 6 2/3 brilliant and economical innings against the Cubs on Sunday night, Wakefield not only gave the Red Sox a 5-1 rubber-match win, but for the first time this season, he made inroads toward one of the few career achievements left within reasonable reach.
Wakefield's first win of 2011 gave him 194 lifetime and 180 in his Red Sox career. That puts him six shy of the trumpeted 200 mark and is 12 short of the Red Sox's team record of 192 -- the total shared by Cy Young and Roger Clemens.
"On a personal side, every win is precious, but as long as the team wins," Wakefield said. "Even though I didn't get that [3-2 win on May 1] against Seattle, we came back and won the game, which is the most important thing. ... There isn't [any record] on my mind right now, just getting ready for my next start."
Wakefield's effort helped the Red Sox keep pace with American League East co-leaders New York and Tampa Bay, both of which won Sunday. Boston trails by a half-game.
For manager Terry Francona, whose club bounced right back after a seven-game win streak was snapped Saturday and now heads into a seven-game road trip, he knows there's meaning in the W's for Wakefield.
"Boy, he was really good," Francona said. "It should be [special]. I think he takes a lot of pride in it, and he should. You can't ever really do stuff personally during a game, but we can certainly get a lot of satisfaction out of it."
Exactly how many starts and how many prime chances at wins Wakefield will have on the season isn't clear, but he should have a window with Daisuke Matsuzaka down for likely more than a month. Sunday was Wakefield's third start, and by far his best. In a weekend when Boston could have run into trouble with two starting pitchers on the disabled list, Alfredo Aceves certainly held his own in a spot start Saturday, and Wakefield went above and beyond.
Sunday was his longest outing of the season, and it was also his most efficient. He threw fewer pitches (75) than he had in his previous two outings, the longest of which was 5 2/3 against Seattle. He tossed 76 that game.
The seventh inning was going to be Wakefield's last no matter what, Francona said afterward. But, even at his age, Wakefield was thinking complete game.
"It did cross my mind after the sixth," said Wakefield, who threw 54 strikes. "Terry asked me after six, he goes, 'How you feel,' I'm like, 'I feel fine.'"
Wakefield threw 35 pitches through four innings and 50 through five. Before a wild pitch on a strikeout led to a two-out baserunner in the fifth, he had faced the minimum, and the only hit he allowed through the first five frames was a leadoff single to Alfonso Soriano in the third. That was promptly erased when Welington Castillo hit into a double play.
"He's been a wonderful guy for this organization for I don't know how many years," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "What a valuable guy to have in your 'pen. He can throw every day, he can start for you. He threw a high percentage of strikes with his knuckleball. If those guys do that, they're usually tough."
Boston's offense had given Wakefield a 3-0 lead by the time the Cubs finally got to the knuckler in the seventh. Francona felt he might've left Wakefield in one batter too long after Jeff Baker's RBI double ended the right-hander's night.
The Red Sox's first three runs came off Cubs starter James Russell, a reliever who filled in for right-hander Matt Garza, who was scratched Saturday because of elbow tightness.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia's third home run of the season made it 3-0 in the fifth after a pair of sac flies put Boston up, 2-0, in the fourth. Saltalamacchia has hit all of his homers in his past four games, and he has a five-game hit streak to boot.
"I'm feeling more comfortable," Saltalamacchia said. "It's just a matter of slowing things down."
Boston added two more runs on a two-out rally in the seventh. Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez singled, setting up Kevin Youkilis' triple off Cubs reliever Kerry Wood to the triangle in center. That extended Youkilis' hit streak to 10 games.
Youkilis said he didn't know he had a hitting streak, "But now I guess I do."
Gonzalez went 4-for-4, notching his second four-hit performance of the series.
Daniel Bard, who was unavailable Saturday as the Red Sox's bullpen melted down behind Aceves, threw 1 1/3 perfect innings and struck out two to bridge the gap to closer Jonathan Papelbon in a non-save situation.
A warning was issued to both teams for a second straight night when Wood hit Jed Lowrie on his rear to start the bottom of the eighth. Aceves hit two Cubs on Saturday, including Marlon Byrd, who was hospitalized and then placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with multiple facial fractures.
The Cubs' Carlos Zambrano hit Youkilis on Saturday, prompting the first warning of the series.
"I'm [ticked] off, I just got hit with a 97-mph fastball," Lowrie said of his thoughts walking to first base. "I mean, I understand the situation, but I'm [ticked] off."