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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Durable Wakefield is here for duration

He was a Red Sox player when Dwayne Hosey was a Red Sox player. He played under Kevin Kennedy, Jimy Williams, and Joe Kerrigan. While the torch was passed from Clemens to Martinez to Schilling, Tim Wakefield was the ever-ready wingman, always wearing his spikes, able to take the baseball and pitch a few innings.

It's almost 10 years exactly since Dan Duquette signed Wakefield to a minor league contract after he'd been released by the Pirates, and now Wakefield has pitched in more Red Sox games than anyone other than Bob Stanley. In Sox history, he has pitched more innings than anyone other than Roger Clemens and Cy Young.

Yesterday Wakefield got his "reward" in the form of a one-year contract extension that includes club options from here to eternity. It's an odd little agreement in this day and age. The deal presumes that Wakefield will finish his career with the Red Sox, which would be a very nice thing, but it also smacks of the old reserve clause that Curt Flood fought so hard to eliminate. Basically, the Sox have Wakefield forever, but they can let him go any time they want. Not even Bill Belichick could sell this to one of his robotic gladiators.

There's always been something a little boring about Wakefield. He doesn't say a lot of interesting things and almost never makes news off the field. He throws a trick pitch that could keep him in the big leagues into his mid 40s (Wakefield is 38), but he's never said or done anything to bring attention to himself.

We've had a few athletes like this in our town. If Wakefield were a Patriot, he'd be Steve Grogan. Tough guy. Team guy. Man's man. If Wakefield were a Celtic, he'd be Tom "Satch" Sanders. Quiet. Dignified. Defensive whiz. If he were a Bruin, he'd be Don Sweeney. Steady. Dull. Sidekick to the superstars.

Announcing the signing, general manager Theo Epstein said, "It's a great day for the organization to be able to retain somebody who represents so much of what we want to stand for and somebody who brings honor to the Red Sox uniform."

That's a mouthful. And it's all true. The Sox want a guy like Wakefield to be the face of the organization. Three reasons: pitching, personality, and priorities.

Pitching: It's pretty obvious that Wakefield is a bargain in every way. He makes relatively short dough (easy for us to say about $4.6 million) for a guy who can start or relieve and give you up to 200 innings in a healthy season. Wakefield is 116-99 with 22 saves and a 4.28 ERA as a Boston pitcher. It's not Cooperstown stuff, but it's the slow and steady fire you need when you already have aces at the top of the rotation. Wakefield's ability to pitch almost every day and help out in the pen makes him a valuable commodity. He also has emerged as something of a Yankee killer. Oh, and he's 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three starts this season.

Personality: On some clubs, you're ahead of the game if you stay off the police blotter. Wakefield does more than merely stay out of trouble. Ask the tireless Sox employees which ballplayer is the best when it comes to saying "yes" to charity and community work and most will tell you Wakefield. Without bringing any attention to himself, Wakefield is a legitimate charity workhorse in a city where the requests can be downright exhausting. Folks in his hometown of Melbourne, Fla., will tell you how he saved the therapeutic center that offers care for children with special needs.

Cynics get the day off with this guy. It's all legit with Wakefield.

Priorities: Wakefield is the ultimate team guy in a sport that cultivates selfishness. I remember him making the one-day trip to Philadelphia on Labor Day 2003. He wasn't going to pitch against the Phillies and easily could have been excused to fly ahead to the next city for his next start. When I asked him why he didn't skip Philly, he answered, "I want to be with my teammates."

I was reminded of that day yesterday when he said, "I take a lot of pride in wearing my spikes every day."

That's it. Right there. Terry Francona knows. When the Red Sox were taking their beating at the hands of the Yankees in the third game of the ALCS at Fenway last October, it was Wakefield who saved the series for the manager and the team. Wakefield was slated to start Game 4 but went to Francona during the Game 3 carnage and offered his services. He went to the mound and took his beating, giving up five runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings. Derek Lowe wound up starting the next day and people named Timlin and Foulke -- who were spared in Game 3 because of Wakefield's work -- were able to do their jobs and help the Sox win the series. Wakefield's contribution set up the Sox' pitching for the final four wins.

And remember, this is the same guy who gave it up to Aaron Boone when He Who Must Not Be Named conspired with Pedro Martinez to blow the 2003 pennant. For a short time, Wakefield worried that he would be the next Bill Buckner, but it could never happen. Sox fans are too savvy. They know a winner when they see one. Obviously, management does, too. And now Tim Wakefield is on schedule to be a Red Sox player for life.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.


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