|Tim Wakefield is ‘very proud’ of what’s he’s done this year||07.07.11 at 12:01 am ET|
It doesn’t seem that long ago in the middle of spring training in Fort Myers when the career of Tim Wakefield appeared very close to – if not at – the end.
Here was a 44-year-old knuckleballer looking for a roster spot in a rotation that included Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. The bullpen had been restocked and reloaded with names like Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and Matt Albers to go with Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.
Where could Wakefield possibly fit in?
Well, Matsuzaka has had Tommy John surgery. Buchholz is out with a bad back until at least after the All-Star break and Lester joined Buchholz on the 15-day DL Wednesday with a strain of his left side. Not only is Wakefield wanted. He is needed – desperately – and on Wednesday night, just three weeks shy of his 45th birthday, he gave the Red Sox seven innings and led them to a 6-4 win over the Blue Jays.
“Very satisfying,” Wakefield said. “I knew I had to go deep in the game today, even though we had some back-up with Atch getting called up today but the bullpen’s been taxed pretty heavily the last couple of days. It’s something as a starting pitcher you take a lot of pride in, to get deep in the game and try to preserve those guys for the next series.
“I take a lot of pride because it was my job coming into this year. I’m getting an opportunity to help us win in whatever capacity that might be this year. I’m very proud of the job I’ve done so far.”
Now, Wakefield – by improving to 5-3 in 11 starts – is just two wins shy of 200, which would make him just the 108th pitcher in history to reach the milestone. He also now has 184 wins since joining the Red Sox back in the Mo Vaughn-Jose Canseco-Kevin Kennedy era in 1995.
“I’ll worry about that when the time comes but I have to see where I fall after the break and go from there,” he said.
Wakefield has always had confidence in his abilities, even when things aren’t going well. Take the first three innings Wednesday. Three runs on six hits and he was on the ropes. Then, just three hits over four shutout innings the rest of the way.
“The results were obviously better,” Wakefield said of his last four innings. “I felt like I had good stuff in the first couple of innings but a couple of hits and they scored three runs but after that I was able to settle down and make some adjustments.”
The key? Talking things over with his catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia after each inning.
“Just maybe changing more speeds and trying get the ball down a little more,” Wakefield said. “Sometimes that’s hard to do. The balls they did hit, I asked Salty between innings, they were good knuckleballs. They were just up a little bit. Just try to get the ball down.
“I gave up a single run in the first and was able to get through the second. In the third, we go ahead, 2-1, and I give up two runs there in the third. But, after that, I was able to settle down and hold them at bay for the next four innings.”
“He’s definitely a guy that deserves to be in the rotation,” Saltalamacchia said. “He’s proven that every time he’s gone out. He’s going to be big.”
If Wakefield has proved anything in his 17 years with the Red Sox, it’s he’ll be ready, willing and able when called upon. And once again, the Red Sox will be doing that for the next several weeks.
“I feel fine, physically,” he said. “I’ve been working my tail off between starts and feel like where I was two years ago. Last year I felt fine, too. I’ll just take them when I can get them.”
“It was dirty tonight,” said Salty, who was charged with three passed balls on the night, as Wakefield fanned a season-high seven batters. “He was probably the best I’ve seen so far. He was able to throw some curveballs in there as well and struck some guys out.”
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