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Red Sox 5, Cubs 1

Old reliable

Wakefield stellar as Red Sox claim finale against Cubs

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 23, 2011

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Each start he makes seems to be in complete defiance of the laws of nature, particularly those related to aging. Sure, time waits for no man, but Tim Wakefield has found a way to beat back the ravages of time with a knuckleball that has enabled the major’s oldest active player to befuddle opposing hitters all these years.

Even at 44 years, 288 days, throwing an anachronistic pitch as effectively as he does, even on short notice (sometimes on no notice), Wakefield never ceases to amaze. That was certainly the case in last night’s 5-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Fenway Park.

“He’s been good for a long time and certainly don’t want to overlook that, but the roles have changed a little bit now,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “But, boy, what a lift that gives us. Throw a guy in there when somebody gets hurt and he’s so professional. I guess it shouldn’t amaze us because he’s been doing it a long time, but I think maybe the better word is ‘appreciative.’ ’’

Francona expressed that appreciation when he collected the ball from Wakefield after 6 2/3 innings. No professional lip readers were necessary when the manager mouthed the words, “Good job, Wake,’’ as he summoned Daniel Bard from the bullpen.

Indeed, it was a job well done by Wakefield, who allowed one run on four hits while striking out three. He threw 75 pitches (59 strikes), but needed only 35 pitches (26 strikes) to get through the first four innings to pick up his first win in three starts this season.

The crowd of 37,688 registered its appreciation by treating Wakefield to a rousing standing ovation.

Making his 202d career start at Fenway, Wakefield delivered in the clutch, making a spot start for John Lackey (elbow strain). He helped the Sox record their eighth win in nine games, improve to 25-21 overall, and remain a half-game behind the Yankees and Rays.

“I take a lot of pride in that because you’re asked to do a job and then do it well, it’s obviously what you’re trying to do,’’ said Wakefield (1-1, 4.50 ERA), who snapped a 14-game winless stretch to pick up his 194th victory.

Wakefield’s only blemish — outside of the RBI double he allowed to Jeff Baker in the seventh — was a pair of wild pitches. Other than that, he was spot on.

“He was terrific,’’ Francona said. “You go into a start where he’s not tremendously stretched out, but the first five innings the pitch count was so low, he threw so many strikes. He was a huge lift, because the first three innings we didn’t do much offensively. But because he was holding ’em down, it gave us a chance to get it going and score a few runs.’’

The Sox erupted for 12 hits, with Adrian Gonzalez leading the way with his 4-for-4 effort that made him 10 for 15 with 2 runs, 2 doubles and 4 RBIs in this three-game set against the National League visitors from the Windy City.

“Wake did an incredible job,’’ Gonzalez said. “His knuckleball was all over place. The few guys who got on base kept talking about how much it was moving. That’s what he does and that’s why he’s been here a long time.’’

After scoring a pair of runs in the second inning off lefthander James Russell, who was making a spot start himself for righthander Matt Garza (sore elbow), on back-to-back RBI sacrifice flies by Jed Lowrie and Mike Cameron, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia made it 3-0 with his leadoff homer in the fifth to the Green Monster seats.

It was Saltalamacchia’s third homer in four games and second in the series against the Cubs.

When Jacoby Ellsbury reached on an infield hit, outracing the off-balanced throw by Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, manager Mike Quade had seen enough.

Justin Berg relieved Russell (4-plus innings, 3 runs, 7 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts) after the young lefty threw 57 pitches (39 strikes).

Wakefield began to falter in the seventh when he gave up a leadoff double to Castro, who wound up scoring the Chicago’s only run on Baker’s double to left. The well-rested Bard struck out Cubs DH Alfonso Soriano with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball to end the inning.

The Sox erupted for a pair of runs on Kevin Youkilis’s triple to deep center in the ninth, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and making it 5-1.

Jonathan Papelbon put the wraps on this interleague series against the Cubs with a pair of strikeouts, including a game-ending punchout of Carlos Pena.

“On a personal side, every win is precious,’’ said Wakefield. “But as long as the team wins . . . [that’s] the most important thing.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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