Given a key break, the Mariners ruin Wakefield’s record-setting start
After the Red Sox skulked into their clubhouse, his keepsake night turned sour, Tim Wakefield resumed his wait. He has pitched in the majors for 17 years and, as of last night, made more starts for the Red Sox than any pitcher in history. He’s waited this long without making an All-Star team. What’s one more day?
First, the Seattle Mariners - and, perhaps, an overzealous fan - robbed Wakefield of a chance to shore up a spot in St. Louis later this month. Second, they beat the Red Sox, 7-6, in 11 innings after catcher Rob Johnson poked a two-run double to right off Ramon Ramirez.
Catcher George Kottaras provided hope in the bottom of the 11th when he crushed a 98-mile-per-hour fastball from Mark Lowe over the visitor’s bullpen with two outs, his first big league home run. Then 38,078 fans rattled Fenway Park when J.D. Drew followed with a single, and they chanted “MVP’’ when Dustin Pedroia strode to the plate. He ripped a ground ball to third base, hard-hit but also game-ending.
The night had started with such promise, the Red Sox plating two runs in the first and Wakefield making history. It unraveled when Ramirez took the mound. After Jonathan Papelbon blazed through the 10th, Ramirez yielded a leadoff single to Franklin Gutierrez on a 1-and-2 pitch and walked Ryan Langerhans on four pitches. Chris Woodward bunted them over, setting up Johnson’s liner, on an 0-and-2 pitch, over Mark Kotsay’s head at first and into the right-field corner.
The final result could not dampen Wakefield’s appreciation for his milestone. Wakefield - “a really consistent pitcher with an inconsistent pitch,’’ manager Terry Francona said - planted his name in the Sox record book by passing Roger Clemens and starting his 383d game, more than 478 other men who threw the first pitch of a Red Sox game, despite coming out of the bullpen for parts of four seasons.
“It was a pretty special night for me tonight,’’ Wakefield said. “It means I’ve been here a long time and been given the opportunity and been blessed to be healthy for as long as I have,’’ Wakefield said. “The organization has been giving me the ball this long. And I’m very, very thankful for that.’’
His record night could have been a keystone for another grand accomplishment. If he had won in his final start before the All-Star teams are announced tomorrow, it would have given him an American League-leading 11 victories. That, combined with his service to baseball, would certainly have been too delicious for AL manager Joe Maddon to resist.
Now, when Maddon and the players who vote examine pitchers’ stats for All-Star validity, they’ll consider Wakefield’s 10-3 record and a 4.30 ERA. Last night, Wakefield pitched eight innings and allowed five earned runs. The Red Sox prevented him from losing, but the Mariners’ 11th-inning rally spoiled the night.
The Red Sox sent the game into extras with a two-run rally in the eighth. With two outs, Nick Green launched a towering fly into the pitch-black night. Fenway Park erupted and the folks in the first few rows of the Monster seats braced.
Standing on second base, Jason Bay thought back to Ronny Cedeno’s home run in the fourth. “It carried like crazy,’’ he said.
Bay jogged to third, looking over his shoulder at the ball, in his mind a sure home run. Then he noticed third base coach DeMarlo Hale.
“He’s waving me around like it’s Game 7 of the World Series,’’ Bay said.
The ball nicked off the top off the Wall and fell to the outfield grass. Bay and Kotsay scampered home. Green stood on second, so close to being the game’s hero.
“I hit it too high,’’ he said.
Green never scored the winning run, but five runs should have been enough. The Red Sox led, 2-1, entering the fourth. With one out, Langerhans popped up in foul ground, by the home plate end of the visiting dugout. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis raced toward the seats and stuck his glove into the crowd. Wakefield thought Youkilis had a play. Youkilis waited for the ball to fall into glove.
It never did. A fan reached above Youkilis’s outstretch mitt and snared the ball, leaving Youkilis grasping at air. Youkilis peered into the stands as he walked back to his position.
“I knew I had made an immediate decision of regret,’’ said the fan, who would only use his nickname, Zupa. “I stood up, I saw the ball, I saw lights, and then it came down.’’
You can probably guess what happened next: Langerhans crunched a double to center field. A section of the crowd screamed, “All your fault!’’ at the offending fan. The chants would become louder and more widespread.
Woodward flied to center, the coulda-been third out. Johnson then smacked a double off the Monster, scoring Langerhans to tie the game. Cedeno followed, and Wakefield threw a knuckler that stayed up, his peccadillo all night. Cedeno belted it to center field, off the part of the Wall that denotes a home run. None of it had to happen.
“Here - especially here - you’ve got to be aware,’’ said Barry Berg, a fan who sat 10 rows behind where the foul pop landed. “If any player has a play on the ball, you have to give him a chance to make a play. I’m just shocked he’s not a Mariners fan.’’
Drew closed the gap to 4-3 with a slicing solo home run to center field with out in the seventh. But Jose Lopez got the run right back in the top of the eighth, lashing Wakefield’s 98th pitch into the Monster seats.
By the time the Red Sox tied the score, Wakefield had left, his chance to add a closing argument for his spot in St. Louis gone. He could blame, in part, the fan in the first row.
“Sometimes, the breaks go your way,’’ Wakefield said. “We just ran out of luck tonight.’’
Globe correspondent Ben Collins contributed to this report.