CHICAGO -- Tim Wakefield didn't throw a complete game last night. He played one.
The Sox righthander went to the Wrigley Field mound amid a brutal slide, having lost four consecutive starts, with the footnote an 8.86 ERA. The team, as a whole, was hemorrhaging runs, outscored, 37-19, in the five previous games, four of them losses, on this interleague swing.
But, on a humid Chicago night, with the wind in his face -- this sounds like some dopey lead-in to a movie scene, except that a warm wind blowing out aids the knuckleballer -- Wakefield delivered seven innings of one-run baseball.
That was his most significant contribution in the Sox' decisive 8-1 beating of the Cubs. His most enduring? Well, that might have been on the basepaths, where he produced a slide that was anything but brutal.
Scene: Sixth inning, Red Sox leading, 3-0, Doug Mirabelli on third, Wakefield on first, Johnny Damon at the plate. Damon hits a ball to the left-center field gap. Mirabelli scores with ease. Wakefield, motoring, touches second and catches sight of third base coach Dale Sveum's right arm, which, of course, was whirling.
''He was a position player," noted Sveum, alluding to Wakefield's status as the corner infielder the Pittsburgh Pirates used an eighth-round pick to select 17 years ago. ''There were two outs. The outfielder bobbled the ball. We need every run we can get. We had to take a chance."
Wakefield ''made a really nice turn," Sveum noticed, and headed for home, three words running through the 38-year-old's head: ''Oh my God." Sure enough, he slipped under the tag of catcher Michael Barrett, lifting the Sox to a 5-0 lead.
''I don't know if I could have scored from first," Mirabelli acknowledged.
The run pumped energy through a Red Sox dugout that, in the words of manager Terry Francona, was ''looking for something to get them energized."
The sources on this night were numerous. Leadoff man Damon and Kevin Youkilis, who batted third for a resting Bill Mueller, both fell one hit shy of the cycle. Damon doubled in the third, homered in the fifth (his second of the year and first in a team-high 149 at-bats), and cranked the two-run triple in the sixth.
Youkilis homered with two outs in the first, singled in the fifth, and doubled to lead off the seventh. He scored moments later when Manny Ramirez rifled a hanging Joe Borowski breaking ball onto Waveland Avenue. Ramirez, who hadn't homered in an alarming 69 at-bats, finished his swing with a high, elaborate flourish.
''I can't hit," the slugger with the .251 average said as he put on a purple shirt, ''but I can dress."
Jay Payton made it a home run sweep for the outfield in the ninth when he joined fellow starters Damon and Ramirez in going deep. Payton's was a vintage Wrigley shot -- a well-hit ball with plenty of loft. Funny thing was, left fielder Todd Hollandsworth put his arms up, as if preparing to catch the ball.
''He got me," Payton said. ''I was like, 'Man, I hit that good.' I knew the wind was blowing. I hit it up in the air . . . "
Though he got Payton, Hollandsworth couldn't get the ball, which left the Friendly Confines, punctuating the win in a game the Sox controlled throughout. But, asked at what point he felt in command, Francona said, ''As soon as it was over."
That was understandable, given his team's 11-16 skid entering last night. In those 27 games his staff was 6-13 with a 6.46 ERA. Opponents, in those games, were spraying balls around the park at a .301 clip with 24 home runs. But Wakefield allowed just four hits, and the Sox as a team -- Mike Timlin and Mike Myers followed -- only five hits.
''We were dying for a solid start," Francona said. ''He pitched great. Combined with his bat [Wakefield singled in the second inning] and on the bases he was outstanding. We needed it."
Wakefield, before scoring on his 270-foot gallop, had reached on a fielder's choice. He'd grounded to shortstop and wouldn't have been criticized at all if he'd given something less than 100 percent running down the line. But, he isn't that kind of player, and he kept the inning alive.
Meanwhile, his first quality start in more than a month coincided with Doug Mirabelli coming off the disabled list. It's one of the odder stats of this season, but the reality of who catches Mirabelli is this: Wakefield, in eight games pitching to Mirabelli, is 5-2 with a 3.34 ERA. In four games pitching to Jason Varitek he was 0-4 with a 8.86 ERA.
''Jason did a great job," Wakefield said. ''Doug back there, he's been catching me over such a long period, he does such a great job back there. I don't want to take anything away from Jason."
Mirabelli downplayed his role, contending that there's nothing he can say or do that Varitek can't to help Wakefield.
''I can talk as much as I want to him but it's more feel for him than anything," Mirabelli said.
And, on this night, the feel?
''He really threw only two bad knuckleballs," Mirabelli said.
How many were hit?