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Wakefield appreciates this pick-me-up by mates

With one big swing in the ninth inning last night, not only did Todd Walker tie the game to set up a dramatic extra-inning victory, he also took Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield off the hook after the knuckleballer made "just one mistake."

With the Boston offense about to go quiet after a first-inning run, Wakefield served up a knuckler in the second that hung high for Luis Matos to club for a three-run homer to left center.

But with the locker room in a party mood -- with whooping from the showers and ear-splitting hip-hop thumping from speakers in celebration of the 6-5 victory -- all was forgotten, as Wakefield tried to bow out of the glory.

"I'm not part of the game record," he shrugged as reporters began firing questions.

But the veteran righthander, who left after seven innings with the Red Sox trailing, 3-2, had pitched a strong game, allowing those three runs on seven hits and no walks, and fanning four. Wakefield's biggest problem as the game wound into its late innings was that the offense hadn't woken up. Yet.

"Going down another two runs, and then Walker's home run to tie it and [David] Ortiz's homer . . . that was one of the most exciting games I've ever seen here," said Wakefield, who has seen a few games in his nine years with the Sox.

"It's been happening like that all season. Someone steps up. It was no surprise to me because this team is made up of a lot of grit. No matter if we're down three runs in the ninth inning, we always fight and try to find a way to win. It's been that way all year long, and tonight just exemplifies the way we are."

Last night was Wakefield's 18th quality start of the season -- four in September -- and he became the first Sox pitcher to reach 200 innings (the first time he has reached that mark since 1998, when he threw 216). He is 2-1 with a 2.15 ERA in September, 11-7 overall.

"I think I pitched pretty well tonight," he said. "I just made that one bad mistake in the second inning. A knuckleball. I left it up and he hit it out. But the rest of the game I felt pretty good."

Manager Grady Little agreed that Wakefield's performance was solid.

"We cannot say enough about Tim Wakefield," said the usually understated Little. "He has been so consistent for us all season long. It is what we planned on throughout the winter. That's why he has been one of our starting pitchers the entire season without missing a beat. And he has been just outstanding. We are very pleased with the job he has done."

Like most of the players, Wakefield does not like to look too far ahead -- i.e. to the playoffs.

"We just have to come out and win tomorrow," he said. "It doesn't matter what Seattle does or Oakland winning. We can't worry about that. When we came back from that long road trip, we were going to try to win every game. Every game. And we have been in every single game."

Wakefield had high praise for the bullpen, and commented on Byung Hyun Kim, who has been inconsistent.

"But he's won his last three outings," said the 37-year-old Wakefield. "And he's pitched well. He's somehow figured out maybe something that he was doing wrong. He's done a good job closing out the games lately and tonight he did a great job keeping us in the game."

Again, Wakefield does not like to talk about possibilities and permutations as the season winds to a close this week. There's only one fact he acknowledges at this point: "We're one step closer."

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