Playing nine innings while presuming Josh Beckett's 50-pitch bullpen session took two hours and 45 minutes to complete . . .
1. My memories of Tim Wakefield's 17 seasons with the Red Sox can essentially be distilled down to two images from two postseasons and one grand redemption.
The first image is the look of sheer devastation on his face as he trudged off the Yankee Stadium mound after Aaron Boone took him deep to win Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I cannot recall ever seeing an athlete look so terribly sad when the moment of defeat was barely complete as Wakefield did that night. Even while enduring your own disappointment, prolonged for another year, you felt for him.
Wakefield once said that one of his immediate thoughts was that he was now going to be regarded as a goat, like poor Bill Buckner. It never happened, in part because Grady Little rightfully felt the brunt of the wrath for that loss, and in part because Wakefield, whose steady success (he won 11 games or more in 11 of his 17 seasons in Boston), durability, and willingness to take the ball under virtually any circumstances had long since won him the enduring respect of Red Sox fans. His two victories earlier in the series -- Games 1 and 4, over the star Mike Mussina -- didn't hurt, either. He was poised to be the hero.
Nearly a year later, of course, came the redemption, for Wakefield and for all of us. You'll hear about this a lot today, but that's fine, because it deserves mention: His selfless performance in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, taking the ball, giving up a potential start, and saving the bullpen for 3 1/3 innings in a 19-8 loss to the Yankees, proved crucial in allowing the rest of the staff some semblance of rest just in case a miracle might happen. That just-in-case became delightful, long-awaited reality, as you may recall, and Wakefield's Game 5 contribution of three shutout innings in relief was one among many essential and improbable plot twists along the way.
Three years later, the Sox won it again, and that brings me to the second image -- or a video, really. In the celebration after the Red Sox' four-game sweep of the Rockies in the World Series, Wakefield was being interviewed on the field when reliever Mike Timlin approached with something to say:
The look on Wakefield's face after his teammate's expression of admiration wasn't that much different from the one he wore after the Boone homer. The emotion, of course, was entirely different. Wakefield knuckleballed his way to 186 victories for the Red Sox, and he desperately wanted six more to join Cy Young and Roger Clemens at the top. But no matter where he stands in the record books, he will always remain in admired standing with his teammates and the fans who knew better than to scapegoat someone who gave so much. He spent two years in Pittsburgh, and he's retiring today, but we know the truth. Tim Wakefield is a Red Sox for life.
2. If you didn't catch up on these already, a couple of great reads by great writers related to Dwight Evans (no, Wakefield did not play with him): Bill James on why Dewey belongs in the Hall of Fame, and this from Joe Posnanski revealing something I didn't know about No. 24, that Evans actually reached base more times than Lou Brock. I go back and forth on whether Evans belongs in Cooperstown, and if you have to vacillate on it, that probably means he's not quite good enough. But I do know it's absolutely absurd that he was on the ballot for just three years, receiving a high of 10.4 percent in 1999. His career deserved far more consideration than that.
3. Of all of the roster fodder the Red Sox have signed this offseason in an attempt to find a fifth starter before Daisuke Matsuzaka returns, the move I like best occurred yesterday. Ross Ohlendorf threw just 38.2 innings for the Pirates last season because of a shoulder injury, and an injury to that hinge of course can be much more damaging to a pitcher's long-term prospects than an elbow injury. But he did not require surgery, he's just 29 years old, and he pitched pretty decently for the Pirates in 2009-10, posting adjusted ERAs of 106 and 99. Plus, he's a Princeton guy, and we all know by now that Ivy Leaguers are the new market inefficiency in all professional sports.
4. Recommended reading from Bob Ryan this morning: Johnette Howard's clever piece on dealing with Bobby Valentine, titled "The Bobby V 5.0™ Owners Manual.'' Have to say, I'm encouraged after what we've seen so far. The reorganized, efficient workouts can't hurt after two consecutive sluggish starts for this team under Terry Francona, and while Bobby V.'s can't-help-himself candor about some players "frowning'' about the new setup may annoy his players, well, who really cares? Players like Beckett, who seems more concerned about exposing clubhouse leaks than admitting culpability in last September's disaster, could stand to be made uncomfortable every now and then.
5. Given that Xander Bogaerts doesn't turn 20 until October (he was born eight days before Wakefield's first postseason win) and hasn't played above the Sally League, I know I'm getting irrationally excited about this kid, who was rated 32d on Kevin Goldstein's top 101 prospects list at Baseball Prospectus. But it's been awhile since the Red Sox developed a legitimate power hitter (though we may need to start regarding Ellsbury as such), but Bogaerts's pop is expected to translate to serious production in the major leagues some day. Maybe he's not quite a Hanley-level prospect yet and won't stay at shortstop, but it's going to be a blast to follow his progression.
6. Help me out here, people, especially you old timers: Who do you remember as being highly-touted Red Sox prospects who didn't make it in the late '60s and early '70s? (Don't say Wakefield. I know you did.) Joe Lahoud, a supposed batting practice hero who rarely translated the results to the ball game, is a name I often hear. Others have mentioned Billy Conigliaro, who was actually pretty productive for the Sox at one point. My reasons for asking will be evident -- well, eventually. But I'm counting on your wisdom now.
7. There were few players who played the game harder or better than Gary Carter. There were no players who smiled more or fulfilled repeated mailed autograph requests from a certain annoying fifth-grader in Bath, Maine. Thanks, Kid, for loving the game in a way we could all relate to, even though we still wish you'd grounded to short in the 10th inning of Game 6.
8. Feel free to judge me. I'll understand. But I really hope Manny Ramirez ends up in Oakland, and I really hope he has something left to offer as a hitter. I can't explain it other than that it's probably one of my many character flaws, but for all of the antics, the insubordination, and yes, the cheating, I still remember his time with the Red Sox well. Always will, too, no matter what idiotic thing he does next.
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.