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Red Sox 6, Tigers 3

Wakefield spot-on again

Veteran breezes as Sox stay hot

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 28, 2011

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DETROIT — For the better part of the last two seasons, Tim Wakefield has believed he should have a place in the Red Sox rotation. The team has thought otherwise, consigning their oldest player to the unglamorous task of serving as a long reliever and spot starter.

When first John Lackey and then Daisuke Matsuzaka went on the disabled list, Wakefield was given the opportunity he wanted. He has taken full advantage of it.

Wakefield pitched seven strong innings last night as the streaking Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers, 6-3, before a crowd of 34,046 at Comerica Park.

The loss of two starters would cripple some teams. For the Red Sox, it served as fuel. Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves have a 1.82 earned run average in the four games they have started since the loss of Lackey and Matsuzaka, with the Sox winning three of those games.

“What a luxury to have those two guys,’’ second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “They’ve been huge for us. Wake, he’s amazing.’’

Wakefield (2-1) has won back-to-back starts for the first time since June 4-16, 2009, when he won three in a row. The 44-year-old has 195 victories, 181 with the Red Sox.

Wakefield is 11 wins shy of tying Roger Clemens and Cy Young for the most victories in franchise history, a record he covets. With Matsuzaka facing the possibility of season-ending surgery, who’s to say the knuckleballer doesn’t have a chance?

“I’m just doing what I can to try and help us win games. I’m asked to fill a role here and I’m trying to do the best I can,’’ said Wakefield, who held the Tigers to two runs on five hits, with two strikeouts and two walks.

Tigers starter Rick Porcello was born in 1988, the same year Wakefield was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He lasted only three innings, giving up six runs on six hits.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford had home runs and Kevin Youkilis had a two-run double to key a five-run third inning that gave the Red Sox a 6-2 lead. Wakefield cruised from there, allowing only two hits over his final five innings.

“The more he’s pitched, the better he has gotten,’’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has looked comfortable corralling the knuckleball. “He can slow it down, he can throw it harder, he can throw it in the dirt. He’s getting a better feel for it and he’s sharper. His ball is moving all over the place and he’s throwing it for a strike.’’

Even the weather cooperated, as heavy fog enveloped the ballpark.

“The more humid the air is, the more resistance [the knuckleball] has against it, so it’s going to move a little more,’’ Wakefield said.

Daniel Bard retired the Tigers in order in the eighth. The Sox then went to Jonathan Papelbon in a non-save situation.

The closer was shaky at first. Old friend Victor Martinez started the inning with a single and scored on a double to center by Jhonny Peralta. But Papelbon retired the side from there as the Sox celebrated again.

Ellsbury was 2 for 5 with the home run, two runs scored, a stolen base, and a diving catch in the sixth inning to steal a hit from Alex Avila.

Ellsbury has six home runs, three shy of his career high.

“We’re thrilled when anybody hits home runs. Whatever he does power-wise is great, but we don’t want to talk about it,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He’s a strong kid and those will come when he takes good swings. But when he gets on base and disrupts the game, that’s what’s important.’’

Ellsbury knows what his job is as a leadoff hitter. But he doesn’t mind mixing in a few homers, too.

“I know that if I put a good swing on it and get the right trajectory, it’s going to go,’’ he said. “Those line drives that I’ve been hitting, if I get a little air under them those balls are gone, too. I just try and hit line drives and keep it simple.’’

Crawford was 1 for 3 with a walk. He is 9 for 12 in the last three games with seven extra-base hits and seven RBIs. His batting average has climbed to .245.

The Sox have won four straight, 12 of their last 14, and are 27-12 since April 16, the best record in baseball. They will send Clay Buchholz to the mound tonight against Andy Oliver, a minor league call-up. The Sox are 4-0 against the Tigers this season.

“We know where we came from,’’ Pedroia said. “We’re going to keep showing up every day and playing winning baseball.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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