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He's come full circle

Veteran Wakefield is now at the top of Boston rotation

NEW YORK -- He had been in the middle of the celebration at Jacobs Field in 1999 when the Red Sox rallied from an 0-2 Division Series deficit to eliminate the Indians. It was a celebration similar to the one the Red Sox had after they clinched the wild card last month at Fenway. Similar to the one in Oakland Monday night when Boston ushered the A's out of the playoffs, again rallying from an 0-2 deficit.

The '99 Sox went directly from Cleveland to New York for the American League Championship Series just as the '03 Sox went directly from Oakland. It was here in '99 that then-manager Jimy Williams poured himself a second cup of coffee and called Tim Wakefield into his office to inform the knuckleballer that he wouldn't be on the ALCS roster.

It's a safe bet Wakefield was in a better mood yesterday when manager Grady Little announced his rotation for this ALCS. There was Wakefield at the podium, fielding questions about being tabbed the Game 1 starter tonight against the Yankees and Mike Mussina. Four years ago, after his chat with Williams, Wakefield's only word to reporters was a stern "no" when asked if he wanted to talk about being left off the roster.

Wakefield acknowledges he didn't have great numbers in '99, though his versatility was never more evident. That year, he served as a starter, a middle reliever, a set-up man, and a closer. He made 49 appearances, including 17 starts. He was 6-11 with a 5.08 ERA, but he answered the call when Tom Gordon, the team's closer, went down with an injury. Wakefield stepped in and saved 15 games.

The Williams-Dan Duquette regime made the call to also take John Wasdin off the postseason roster, choosing instead to go with Pat Rapp and Bryce Florie.

"It's exciting to be here," Wakefield said yesterday. "In 1999, I was taken off the playoff roster and it was just a very disappointing feeling that I helped us get to this level back then. And now it's a totally different story. I started all year, and was just fortunate enough to be in the situation to be the Game 1 starter. I'm really blessed and honored to be able to do this."

Little, who was a bench coach on the '99 team, was asked if he knew why Wakefield was left out.

"I was just a coach then, giving an opinion here or there," he said. "To be honest, I don't even know who we kept. It had to be tough for Tim."

Little had some roster decisions of his own to make last night. In the end, it's all about which players can help you beat the Yankees, but Little was asked if there's a sense of loyalty to a player who has been with you all season, to which Little replied, "For me there is."

So this time Wakefield gets his just reward. He's pitching Game 1 because Pedro Martinez started Game 5 in Oakland and Derek Lowe pitched in relief.

He has been with the Sox for nine seasons, longer than any of his teammates. He was saved off the scrap heap by Duquette in 1995, used as a starter by Kevin Kennedy, and led the Sox to a division title at a time when he was dominant while Roger Clemens was trying to get healthy. Wakefield was the anchor back then. Wakefield has pitched well against the Yankees. His most recent appearance against them was an 11-0 win against Clemens Sept. 6 at Yankee Stadium, when he pitched seven innings, allowing just four hits. He also pitched well May 21 in a 4-2 loss that was career win No. 299 for Clemens.

"They have a tough lineup and they are pretty deep," Wakefield said. "I've got to approach every hitter and just try to get an out. That's been my approach all year, to take each inning and try to get the first out."

The past 48 hours, said Wakefield, have been "a whirlwind, but it's an exciting time for us and hopefully we can carry the momentum into [tonight]."

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