Wakefield finally gets elusive 200th win
Veteran seventh knuckleball pitcher to reach milestone
BOSTON -- Tim Wakefield never thought he would get here in the first place, so it was fitting that win No. 200 took eight tries. Here's a pitcher whose entire career is the embodiment of baseball's egalitarianism, one who is today still pitching at 45 years and 42 days of age after he was out of a job 16 years ago.
Indeed, it wasn't impossible that, at least in 2011, the 200-win plateau could've slipped by Wakefield. It seemed impossible on July 24, when he recorded win No. 199, but like a microcosm of his career, the journey to 200 only grew steeper.
He made seven straight winless starts, the longest stretch he's had in a single season. The regular season was fading away, and he's a free agent after the season. Wakefield himself considered the possibility it might not happen.
"Yeah, it did cross my mind after six or seven starts. I kept telling myself that the milestone doesn't determine me as a person," Wakefield said, still revved after Boston's 18-6 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday at Fenway Park finally brought him across the finish line. "I've always said I've been very grateful to wear this uniform as long as I have. I've been very fortunate to live out a dream I had as a kid. I'm just thankful that it happened tonight, and I'm very grateful that it happened in front of our home crowd."
Knucklers at 200
Before Wakefield finished his outing with six innings, five runs allowed and 96 pitches, and before an emotional entry into the Fenway Park clubhouse led him back onto the field for an extended standing ovation from the usual sellout crowd, Tuesday night looked like it might again be going the wrong direction.
Even the day it happened, it couldn't come easy. Toronto took a 5-4 lead on a moonshot of a home run from Jose Bautista in the third inning, and Wakefield was on thin ice.
"Probably we were getting to that point," manager Terry Francona said when asked if another hit or two would've meant a trip to the showers. "We had scored, [but] we were having a tough time, [and] it's so important when you score to have a shutdown inning. We were having a hard time doing that, but with Wake, he can reel it in. Other pitchers, fastball up, something's hanging, but with Wake, he always has that ability to reel it back in."
The next three innings Wakefield threw were scoreless. He left with six hits, two walks and two home runs allowed, with one hit batsman and six strikeouts to round out his line.
The Sox's offense, desperately needing a win for the team's playoff hopes as much as Wakefield's personal feat, took things from there.
"I don't know. Just straight determination not to come out of that game. I was disappointed -- we scored some runs early, and I gave up the lead twice," Wakefield said. "I kept thinking to myself, 'Get it done, grind through it as much as possible, get as many outs as you can to get at least through the fifth.' I was able to get through the fifth and get another chance in the sixth and had a clean inning there in the sixth, and then our offense exploded and made it easier to watch from inside, that's for sure."
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Wakefield's full-time catcher this season, couldn't have been more relieved once it was over.
"For me personally, I wanted it more than him probably, because that was just like anxiety every time out there. I just wanted to make sure I caught everything, make sure we didn't give up any runs and we scored a bunch," said Saltalamacchia, who was 7-years-old in 1992, Wakefield's first year in the big leagues. "So to be able to do that tonight really felt good. I think it's something we can now move on and be happy for him and go out there and play."
Part of that was hyperbole, of course. The night meant more to no one than Wakefield, and his teammates showed their appreciation.
"It was great. We've been trying for a while," said Dustin Pedroia, who had four hits. No team had scored more runs behind a pitcher in his 200th win than the Sox did on Tuesday. "We gave him some run support and he went out there, and the last few innings, he settled in and did a great job. We're all so proud of him. It's pretty unbelievable what he's been able to accomplish."
Wakefield is the fifth player to win 200 games in a Red Sox uniform, joining Lefty Grove, Fergie Jenkins, Luis Tiant and Curt Schilling. He's the seventh knuckleballer to do it all-time, joining Phil Niekro, Ted Lyons, Joe Niekro, Freddie Fitzsimmons, Charlie Hough and Eddie Cicotte.
Most of Wakefield's family wasn't there to share the accomplishment with him on Tuesday night, and he said it had only begun to sink in when he walked into the Fenway interview room.
Wakefield can't wait to share it with them, he said, and he's just six wins off matching the Red Sox's all-time wins mark of 192, shared by Roger Clemens and Cy Young. That milestone, though, takes a backseat for now, as October approaches.
"I'm ready to celebrate with my wife and kids when they get up here this weekend," Wakefield said. "Our philosophy as a team has been to win games and win a lot and try to get to the postseason again. Tonight was a huge step in that direction based on how we played the last week on the road. A lot of guys are starting to realize it's not that easy to get there and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication."