Father throws best: Wakefield pacifies Rays
Knuckleballer has them eating out of his hand
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- So what did Tim Wakefield name his first son?
"How about Phil [Niekro Wakefield]?" Pedro Martinez suggested, referring to the Hall of Fame knuckleballer who once mentored Wakefield.
Not quite. Wakefield seems to have done enough for the pantheon of knuckleballers by continuing the craft and wearing No. 49 to keep faith with masters such as Charlie Hough, Tom Candiotti, and Hoyt Wilhelm. Wakefield and his wife, Stacy, opted instead to name their son Trevor Steven (the middle name has been passed to every generation of Wakefields from the infant's great-great-grandfather). And they will have a nice tale to recount for the boy one day about dad's first appearance after the child's arrival.
In a dandy performance on a night his knuckler danced, the sleep-deprived Wakefield befuddled the beleaguered Devil Rays over seven innings to propel the Sox to a 7-3 victory before a crowd of 12,836 at Tropicana Field overrun with Boston fans.
"I wanted to win for my new son," Wakefield said, with the game ball preserved in a fresh sanitary stocking dangling from a hook in his locker to inscribe for his son. "Being a new father, I was pretty excited about that."
Wakefield, 37, made the 400th appearance of his resilient career after a chaotic three days in which he traveled from Toronto to Boston for the delivery, drove Stacy and the baby home, then rushed to Florida to rejoin the team.
"It's been a whirlwind," he said. "I'm still on cloud nine, but I'm glad we pulled out a win."
Wakefield allowed only one run on three hits and a pair of walks, but he readily confessed he needed all the help he could get from Doug Mirabelli, his catcher and close friend.
"I told Doug before the game he was going to have to help me out because my mind wasn't really there," said Wakefield, who improved to 3-2 with a 3.31 ERA while he lowered the batting average he has allowed opponents to .203.
"He was kind of in a daze," Mirabelli said. "He just wanted me to take over and help him not think. He said, `I'm going to lean on you to keep me focused,' and I did the best I could."
Sox hitters presented Wakefield their own baby gift by erupting for five runs in the seventh inning to break open a 2-1 game. Mark Bellhorn put a bow on it by launching a three-run homer off reliever Jeremi Gonzalez after Gabe Kapler and Johnny Damon touched Tampa Bay starter Mark Hendrickson for run-scoring doubles.
"TIm was awesome," said Damon, who was lifted for precautionary reasons after shortstop Julio Lugo accidentally ran into him in the seventh inning, snapping Damon's head back. "I'm very happy for him, Stacy, and their newborn kid. It's going to be a game he always remembers."
Bill Mueller, who went 3 for 4 as he returned from a three-game absence because of an inflamed right knee, started the game-breaking rally by doubling off Hendrickson. Pokey Reese (2 for 3 with an RBI) also scored after reaching on a sacrifice fielder's choice. But nobody gave Hendrickson a harder time than Manny Ramirez, who went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a walk to improve to .533 (8 for 15) against the lefthander.
All in all, the Sox were pleased to win it for Wakefield.
"This has been a long week for Wake, a good week but a long one," manager Terry Francona said. "I don't think he's working on a whole lot of rest, but he's professional. He pitched really, really well. I bet you he's going to sleep good tonight."
The Sox ruined the 500th game at the Trop for the Rays, who lost for the 18th time in 21 games. In losing their first four games against the Sox this season, the Rays have been outscored, 24-6, while batting .167 (21 for 126).
For Wakefield, the greatest challenge was surviving the first inning. Lightning-fast leadoff hitter Carl Crawford made things difficult by beating out a grounder to second base. Crawford stole second for his league-leading 19th steal before he advanced to third when Rocco Baldelli lined to right. He scored on Tino Martinez's ground out.
Otherwise, the Rays were easy prey for Wakefield, who improved to 9-1 with a 2.61 ERA against them in his career.
"Once I got in the game, I realized it was kind of like riding a bike," he said, "and my concentration got back to where it needed to be."
After Crawford's single, Wakefield retired 15 of the next 16 batters before he needed to snuff a minor threat in the sixth. He yielded after the seventh to Scott Williamson, who allowed a run in the eighth. Mike Timlin took it from there, surrendering another run in the ninth in clinching the victory, which ranked among the most precious of Wakefield's career.
"I've never experienced this before," the new father said. "It was kind of special for me."