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Dancing with a Sox star?

Wakefield worthy of being considered

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 11, 2009
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Maybe he will fade toward the end of the season, but if you believe that wins in June are just as important as wins in September, Tim Wakefield, who is now 8-3, continues to write an amazing chapter in a career that has often been underappreciated.

Since 1995, when I first saw Wakefield in Anaheim after the Red Sox had signed him off the Pittsburgh Pirates' scrap heap - yes, the Pirates were getting rid of good players even back then - Wakefield has never ceased to amaze. On that May 27th night, his first as a Red Sox, Wakefield pitched seven innings and beat the Angels, 12-1. It was a year when he kept winning and winning. He was 14-1 on Aug. 13 and saved Boston and manager Kevin Kennedy's pitching staff. Over the years he's saved staffs, and saved games as a closer. He's pitched on less than the normal five days' rest and when younger could throw 130-135 pitches.

Sometimes it's easy to forget what Wakefield has accomplished.

Last night was not one of his most memorable nights. Yet he beat the Yankees, 6-5. He went out there and threw 87 pitches over six innings, allowed three runs and eight hits. Jorge Posada took him deep, but at the end of his outing he was leading, 6-3. It got a tad scary in the seventh against Ramon Ramírez before Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon put the Yankees away.

There were bigger storylines last night. The Yankees are 0-7 against the Sox in 2009. The Sox are back atop the AL East alone. Okajima was terrific. Papelbon rebounded from being sick the night before to close the game. Chien-Ming Wang is still having a heck of a time trying to return to form. Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis hit big home runs.

Somewhere down the list is Wakefield. As usual.

"Getting through the lineup, for what he did, we'll take it," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think we've seen him better. Every time it seems like we talk about Wake, you look up and in the sixth or seventh inning you have a chance to win. Regardless, he finds a way. Whether he's throwing a curveball, he threw a couple of fastballs, he gives you a chance. He's faced some of these guys, I think [Derek] Jeter has 100 or 110 career at-bats. He's faced these guys an awful lot."

Said Wakefield, "Because of what I throw and the way I throw, I think it's different than a conventional guy facing a guy over 100 times. They can sit on fastballs and curveballs but with me it's totally different."

Last night was one of those nights when he wasn't mesmerizing but he got it done nonetheless.

"It was a bit of a grind," said Wakefield, now 172-148 with the Sox. "I felt I had good stuff, but I was facing a team with probably the best lineup in the American League right now, besides us. I was able to spread hits around and not really get into big innings."

Wakefield allowed Aaron Boone's walkoff homer in the infamous Pedro Martínez/Grady Little meltdown AL Championship Series game in 2003, but few held Wakefield liable for that one. Over the course of 15 years in a Sox uniform there's been talk of dumping Wakefield. Well, keep talking.

"He is one of the most unique pitchers that we'll ever see," said Johnny Damon, Wakefield's former teammate. "Every year, there he is. That ball was dancing pretty good tonight. You know, we've all seen him so often over the years and you think, 'Well, OK, you know if you can just get one of those things that flattens out' . . . but sometimes you do and you can do something with it and other times you can't do a thing. That's the nature of the pitch. I know there aren't many knuckleballers out there, but who's better?"

It may even be time to start thinking about things like the All-Star Game, one accolade that has eluded him.

"It would be huge," said Wakefield, whose eight quality starts are second on the Sox to Josh Beckett's nine. "It's one thing you want in a career is to make an All-Star team. We've won two World Series; just to add it to the list of things that you can say you've accomplished in your career. Obviously it would be nice to make a team and hopefully I can continue to pitch the way I've been pitching and finally make one after 14 or 15 years. Hopefully I can be in St. Louis."

This is an extraordinary story of a 42-year-old pitcher who has been one of the most selfless players over the years. He takes a $4 million paycheck every year (plus some performance bonuses), with a team option, but could easily ask for twice that much.

Oh sure, there will be more dips to come. There'll be more peaks as well. There always will be with Wakefield.

But for a career so well done and for a season so decent, the American League should make sure he's pitching for it in St. Louis July 14.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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