They are members of an unusual fraternity. There are not many equivalents in professional sports to a major league knuckleball pitcher. But, much like National Hockey League goaltenders, they understand each other better than anyone else understands them.
So it wasn't that surprising when the Red Sox' Tim Wakefield revealed he had shared a few stories with White Sox righthander Charlie Haeger before yesterday's series finale at Fenway Park. The veteran knuckleballer said it was nice to see another up-and-comer in the 23-year-old Haeger, who pitched 3 1/3 innings in relief of Jon Garland. It was believed to be the first time Wakefield has gone head-to-head against another knuckleballer since June 3, 2002, at Detroit when he came on in relief against Tigers starter Steve Sparks.
"Charlie's got a pretty good knuckleball," said Wakefield, who earned his 11th victory of the season in Boston's 8-5 decision. "I've seen him throw a couple of times on TV and I was able to watch him throw [Saturday] live and obviously today I really wasn't paying a whole lot of attention because I was worried about my own game, but it's nice to have a young guy come up through the ranks and [be] doing as well as he's been doing.
"I know he watched me on the side the other day when they first got to town. Being able to share some knowledge with him hopefully helps him. But he's got a really good knuckleball and I'm glad to see there's another member of the fraternity here."
Wakefield, who threw 95 pitches, 65 for strikes, said it wasn't as if anything he told Haeger was classified information. He said earlier in his career, he was the beneficiary of counsel from those who preceded him, so he didn't have any problem in paying it forward.
"All the guys before me, Charlie Hough and [Tom] Candiotti and the Niekros were retired when I worked with them, but it's just nice to be able to talk to somebody or have him ask me questions about my struggles and my successes," he said. "Things that may help him be successful."
For Wakefield, who was making his 500th career appearance (No. 359 as a starter), it was the best he'd felt in a while. He gave up six hits, four runs (all earned), struck out two, walked two, and had a wild pitch. He is now just two wins away from No. 150 in a Red Sox uniform.
"I felt good," said Wakefield, who has won four of his last five starts. "It's probably the best I've felt in three or four starts for the first six innings and in the seventh inning, they strung a couple of hits together and chased me out of the game."
The White Sox made it interesting in the late innings but because the Red Sox bats were so productive, they were able to withstand the threats.
"I can't say enough about our offense the last three days [during which the Red Sox scored 29 runs]," said Wakefield. "It's been amazing to watch and I'm just thankful that I pitched on a day that we scored eight runs for me. Any time your offense does that, it makes your job as a starter a little bit easier knowing that you can make a mistake and still get out of a jam."
Wakefield said he wasn't aware of his milestone entering the game but said he'll likely reflect on it once the season is over.
"I think about [achievements] more in the offseason, but I had no idea that was my 500th appearance," he said. "I've been blessed to be able to wear this uniform for as long as I have. To be able to get into that many games is pretty special for me."