Red Sox, Wakefield cash in
New catcher handles the job in another shutout of Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Don Slaught, who was with Tim Wakefield when the knuckleballer was a Pirates rookie, caught him in the 1992 National League playoffs.
"Catching him today," Slaught said that night, "was the most physically and mentally exhausting thing I've ever done. I caught one, I didn't even know I had it. I turned to the umpire and I said, 'Boy, this is tough.' He said, 'You? I've got a headache.' "
Last night, Kevin Cash, the 29-year-old journeyman promoted from Pawtucket when Doug Mirabelli went on the disabled list Friday, caught Wakefield for the first time in a big-league game.
For Cash, it was something of a homecoming: He grew up in the Tampa suburb of Lutz, and was a member of the Tampa Northside team that advanced to the 1989 Little League World Series. There were 18 family members and friends in the house, and there had to be some squirming in the first inning, when three of the first four pitches from Wakefield bounced off Cash's mitt, and another got away for a passed ball, allowing leadoff man Akinori Iwamura to advance to third.
"No fun," Cash said. "After the first inning, I would be lying if I said I wasn't rattled. But I shook it off, the guy didn't score from third, so I came in smiling, made some jokes, and tried to relax."
If Cash was worse for the experience, it didn't show. He wasn't charged with another passed ball the rest of the night, and he threw out a runner attempting to steal.
And if the Sox were worse for the experience, it didn't show, either. With Wakefield throwing another seven shutout innings, on top of the eight he spun against the Devil Rays last Monday night in Fenway Park, the Sox cruised to a 6-0 win before a modest gathering of 16,843 at Tropicana Field. This is the place that now hosts the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame but should consider opening a wing for Wakefield, who is undefeated in nine career decisions under the bubble roof, and is now 19-2 lifetime against the Devil Rays.
Only one other pitcher, Houston's Roy Oswalt, has a higher winning percentage against a single opponent (minimum 20 starts). Oswalt is 19-1 against the Cincinnati Reds.
"I don't know, I don't care, I'm just happy it's that way," said Wakefield, who is now 15-10 this season, with four wins coming against the D-Rays.
But on this night, when he allowed just four hits in seven innings, even though his back stiffened after the fifth, Wakefield and manager Terry Francona both spotlighted the role played by Cash.
With the Sox breaking through for five runs in two innings against Devil Rays ace Scott Kazmir, who in the past has handled them with almost as much ease as Wakefield (2.37 ERA lifetime) has handled his teammates and who had allowed just one earned run in his previous 25 innings, the Sox were in position for an easy win as long as their new battery did not malfunction.
"I thought Cashie did a great job," Francona said. "Besides the obvious -- running the game, staying with Wake -- I thought he had a real good demeanor. When he came off the field after the first inning, it was like, 'I'll handle this.'
"It was kind of contagious. I think he was having fun accomplishing something pretty difficult. He wasn't on pins and needles, so I didn't think we should be. I think we enjoyed what he brought. Sometimes guys band together because of circumstances."
Even before Wakefield took the mound, the Sox gave him a 2-0 lead, even without David Ortiz, who was allowed to rest against a guy who had handled him with ease (5 for 34). Dustin Pedroia hit Kazmir's first pitch of the game into left field for a single, and Kevin Youkilis walked, setting up Mike Lowell for a two-run double that third baseman Iwamura was unable to glove.
Coco Crisp's double started a three-run second, which featured an RBI single by Pedroia and a two-run single by Manny Ramírez, and Lowell made it 6-0 with his 17th home run in the fifth.
Wakefield, meanwhile, allowed just one more runner to advance as far as second base before turning the game over to Mike Timlin and Manny Delcarmen, who each went three-up, three-down to preserve the shutout.
"I felt pretty good," Wakefield said. "I had command of everything, and it was huge for us to get to Kazmir that fast. I was just fortunate to stay in the game as long as I could. We scored six runs early to get [Kazmir] out of the game early, which is very tough to do."
And Cash kept his cool. The only loss of composure, it seems, took place in the Sox radio booth, where veteran Joe Castiglione suddenly bolted while partner Glenn Geffner was doing the play-by-play.
"I thought it was something I said," Geffner said.
Castiglione, it turns out, was spooked by a rodent.
"It was either a mouse or a small rat," Geffner said. "It had crawled up right where Joe was sitting."
"A rat," said TV play-by-play man Don Orsillo.
"A mouse," snorted Jerry Remy.
"They trapped it," Geffner said. "They showed it to us in the ninth inning."