Wakefield, Sox top Twins in rain-shortened opener
To all those with questions, all those who doubted the Red Sox' decision to bring back Tim Wakefield for a 15th season in Boston, the knuckleballer has answered. It might not last beyond his next start. It might last all season. But over his last two starts he has quelled the confusion over the desire to have him back in a rotation that looked stacked.
Seven no-hit innings? Done. A five-hit, one-run, seven-inning start? Done. Two straight complete games, albeit one rain-shortened? Done and done.
And again, it was necessary. With 18 innings originally on the docket for yesterday, pitching coach John Farrell had emphasized the night before how important it was for Wakefield to pitch deep into Game 1. And so, he did. In his second straight sterling start, and third straight quality start, Wakefield stymied the Twins as the Sox bashed their way through another opposing starter in the first game of a doubleheader, a 10-1 win in seven innings in front of a rain-soaked announced crowd of 37,608.
"I was excited to pitch today," said Wakefield, the oldest pitcher (at 42 years 263 days) to throw consecutive complete games since Charlie Hough (44 years 169 days) in 1992, and the first Sox pitcher to do so since he did it in 2005. "I really felt good in Oakland, took a no-hitter into the eighth. I just carried that confidence and momentum that I had after that game into today's game, so I feel like my checkpoints and my mechanics are coming together. Throwing a lot of strikes, mixing in my pitches when I need to."
The Red Sox' starting pitching has found the form expected at the beginning of the season, with five of the victories on the current six-game winning streak going to starters, and so has the offense. After the Sox tagged the Orioles for 12 runs Monday, they hit home run after home run after home run yesterday. Three two-run homers in the first three innings - by Kevin Youkilis, Nick Green, and Mike Lowell - gave the Sox all they needed.
"That's Boston, you know," David Ortiz said. "People panic too easy here. I've been here seven years and the years that we struggled the most we won the World Series, and then there's some other years that everything's looking good and then injuries happen."
So, why have the Sox started hitting now? "Because we've got good hitters," Ortiz said. "Good hitters are always going to hit. No matter what. I don't care what anybody has to say. Good hitters are always going to hit."
Which they did yesterday, with 10 runs on 14 hits in seven innings - and there could have been more. The Sox had two runners in scoring position with one out in the seventh and Jacoby Ellsbury at bat when rain halted the game. With a second game on tap, the first was called after a 1-hour-25-minute delay. Not exactly the norm.
"It is unique," said Sox manager Terry Francona, who made the trip across the diamond to the umpires' room near the end of the rain delay to speak with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the umpires. "I don't think I've ever had this. I mistakenly was under the impression that you had to finish the first one before you could try to start the second one, and that's not the case."
As the game began, fans barely filled one of every three seats at Fenway Park. It was a late-arriving crowd. And an early-leaving one. Even those hardy fans who stuck it out through nearly 25 minutes of rain headed for the exits when the tarp was placed on the field at 2:45 p.m.
The only inning in which Wakefield was in trouble, and the only inning in which he allowed a runner past second base, was the fifth. Nick Punto struck out to lead off the frame, and Carlos Gomez followed with a double. Wakefield then hit Denard Span on the backside with a pitch. Nick Green made his second error of the afternoon when he tried to transfer the ball too quickly on a potential double play, then Justin Morneau singled home Gomez for the Twins' only run.
Because the Sox took advantage of Twins starter Scott Baker - of whom Ortiz said, "I don't know too much about him. He's like any other pitcher, you know? Average stuff." - Wakefield was able to take some liberties. He got strikeouts on a fastball and a curveball. "I was able to pitch to the scoreboard, so to speak," said Wakefield. "[The offense] made my job a lot easier today."
In addition to the six runs in the first three innings, the Sox started the seventh with a near homer by Ortiz, then followed that up with three consecutive walks, an RBI single by Lowell, a sacrifice fly by George Kottaras, and a two-run double by Green.
It was a show of offense not unlike the eighth inning of Wakefield's last start. In the last six games, the Sox have scored 48 runs, 22 over the last two. That left Ortiz - who had a two-hit game, both to left field - with a message for those who weren't sure about him or other Sox hitters during their slow start.
"Things are going good around here," he said. "That's the way we want to keep it. Tell the people to stop panicking."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.