|Tim Wakefield gets a hand upon returning to the dugout after the seventh inning. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
One night, the starting catcher, Jason Varitek, knocked in the deciding run in a 5-4 win. The next night, the backup, Kevin Cash, had one of those starry nights - throwing out a runner attempting to steal, drawing the first intentional walk of his major league career, and blasting a three-run homer in the eighth inning to provide insurance in a 5-0 win for the Red Sox over the Diamondbacks.
In a game for the ages, or rather the aged, 41-year-old Tim Wakefield beat 44-year-old Randy Johnson before 37,924 at Fenway Park in the oldest pitching matchup in the major leagues since July 21, 2007, when the combined ages of Philadelphia's Jamie Moyer and San Diego's David Wells was 88 years, 308 days. Wakefield and Johnson were a mere 86 years, 252 days old combined, but both submitted prime-time performances. It was a contrast in styles to be sure, Johnson, a lefthanded flamethrower, against Wakefield, a knuckleballer.
Cash has made people forget Doug Mirabelli, Wakefield's former personal catcher, for he not only caught Wakefield flawlessly, he helped the knuckleballer over his seven two-hit innings by nailing Chris Young on a strong throw to Julio Lugo at second base to end the fifth inning.
"I've gotten so much better on that," said Cash. "[Bullpen coach] Gary Tuck has really helped me out. There was a time I'd throw that ball into center or I wouldn't make the throw."
Every five days, Cash is eager to do his part to remain a major leaguer. The Sox never expected him to be a factor at the plate. They just hoped he would provide a hit every once in a while. He did that last night, connecting on a 2-2 slider from Juan Cruz with two on and first base open in the eighth.
While it looked like a garbage-time homer, it appeared an inning later the Sox might need it. After Manny Delcarmen's perfect eighth, which included two strikeouts, Craig Hansen loaded the bases in the ninth, forcing Jonathan Papelbon into the game to close it.
"It was a big hit, but it was a bigger hit because they loaded the bases against us in the ninth inning," Cash said. "He threw me some fastballs inside, but he threw me a slider that caught too much of the plate and I got it. It felt good to contribute like that."
Back in the sixth, in a strange managerial decision with the Sox leading, 1-0, Arizona's Bob Melvin ordered that Cash, who was hitting .237, be intentionally walked for the first time in his major league career, loading the bases for lefthanded-hitting Brandon Moss. Turns out there was some method to Melvin's madness.
Still, Cash was mired in a 1-for-22 slump and Johnson had struck him out on three fastballs in the fourth. Nevertheless, Cash stood in the box with the bat on his shoulders doing what he probably hadn't done since high school.
Moss then stepped in and lined a hard shot that Justin Upton tracked down in deep right. Mike Lowell came home on the sacrifice fly with Boston's second run.
"I don't think it was unusual," said Moss. "Cash is a righthanded hitter, I'm lefthanded. You have a guy out there with 20 years experience and a hitter with 20 games."
Of course, Melvin's respect for Cash seemed warranted when in the eighth, with runners at second and third and nobody out, Cash hit a mammoth homer over everything in left off Cruz for a 5-0 lead. It was Cash's first home run since hitting one while with Tampa Bay June 21, 2005, against Johnson.
"I think I've had a couple [of intentional walks] in the minor leagues," Cash said. "A little bit surprising. In fact, when the catcher called for four balls, I looked back and said, 'What?' But when you look at it, Randy would be working left on left [against Moss] with the bases loaded. I don't think that homer I hit off Randy had too much to do with it. I don't think scouting reports go that far back."
Cash's recollection of the homer against Johnson was a little fuzzy. He said he hit a 96-mile-per-hour fastball and "we got like 10 runs off him and they came back to beat us, 16-14, or something like that. It was a four- or five-hour game. It wasn't fun." It was actually a 20-11 Yankees' win in which New York scored 13 runs in the eighth inning to overcome Cash and the Devil Rays. Cash's homer was the second of back-to-back shots in the second inning.
Cash said Wakefield had exceptional movement on his knuckleball last night, and lately Wakefield has been pitching deep into games. In each of his last six starts he's pitched seven or more innings, and his two-hit, seven-inning outing last night lowered his ERA to 3.88.
Moss gave the Sox a 1-0 lead in the second inning with a ground out that scored Mike Lowell. Lowell had singled and advanced to third on Coco Crisp's double.
A big run at the time with the way the ageless wonders were throwing.
"It was a great game to watch and be a part of," said Cash. "You get to watch a guy who's going to be in the Hall of Fame against Wake, one of the greatest knuckleball pitchers ever. Pretty cool to be part of that. It was just great for our team to come out of here with a win and we get to go on the road trip on a positive note."
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.