On July 14, Tim Wakefield lined up next to the greatest baseball players in the world, heard his named blare through Busch Stadium, and tipped his cap. He did not pitch in the All-Star Game, but he was there, and he deserved it, and it was probably one of the best, most cherished moments of his remarkable career.
Wakefield will have to hold on to those days in St. Louis to salvage his season, which began so brilliantly and has most likely ended so sadly. There’s no other way to say it. Wakefield, 43, has almost certainly thrown his final pitches of 2009.
He was at one point early this season the most valuable player on the team. All signs point to Wakefield not pitching in the playoffs. Wednesday night, he lasted three innings and allowed five runs on seven hits, three of which left Fenway Park on a cold night. His left leg has not improved enough to make him a viable postseason piece.
“I don’t make those decisions,” Wakefield said when asked how realistic his place in the postseason was. “Those decisions will come down in the next couple days. I’ll deal with it when the time comes. If I’m on the team, great. I’ll give them everything I have, whether it’s in relief or a start or whatever. If I’m not, I’ll be the biggest cheerleader in the dugout.”
Wakefield, 43, has been hobbled by a nerve injury in his back that weakened his left leg to the point that he could barely cover first base. Last night, Wakefield threw well in his warm-up in the bullpen. In the second inning he had to try to field a sacrifice bunt. He limped toward first as the ball rolled slowly past him. He was never the same.
“You can see how it’s hurting or limiting him,” manager Terry Francona said. “I thought after that play, I thought he was dragging it a little bit in his delivery. He had thrown a lot of pitches. He wanted to stay and pitch, which I respect a lot. I didn’t think that was in his best interest, so we got him out of there. He looked like he was feeling it.”
In the second half, Wakefield pitched when he could, making five starts so regular starters could have an extra day of rest at a time they needed it. He is 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA. It’s hard to guess how much pain he has felt.
“I don’t want to give up on the team,” Wakefield said. “Regardless if I’m 60 percent or whatever. I feel like I’m needed the staff has made it clear that I’m needed to be out there. I’m going to go out there at 40 percent if I need to. That’s the type of player that I am. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough tonight.”
Jon Lester said Wakefield should not be viewed as a “place-holder.” Ultimately and unfortunately, after his great first half, that may have been his only role in the second half of the season.
“I want him to do well, and I know he’s trying his best,” said his catcher, George Kottaras. “You can just tell he’s not right.”