Wakefield a complete success
OAKLAND, Calif. - The door to the visiting manager's office wasn't open much yesterday morning. There were meetings with John Farrell and Daisuke Matsuzaka, a determination made to place the pitcher on the disabled list. There were reporters in and out. But, on a morning that seemed like a continuation of the four-plus-hour, 6-5, 12-inning loss of the night before, Tim Wakefield made sure to stick his head into Terry Francona's space.
"He just kind of said, in passing, he goes, 'I understand my responsibility today,' " Francona said. "He didn't say it flippantly. And boy, did he ever."
The pitcher always ready to sacrifice himself for the team, always the first to pick up his spikes and head out to the bullpen, picked up his spikes again yesterday. And he almost made history.
Less than 18 hours after Matsuzaka decimated the bullpen, leaving them with 11 innings to pitch when he could manage only one, Wakefield didn't require any help in his complete-game, four-hit effort, an 8-2 win over the A's in front of 35,067 at the Oakland Coliseum.
But it was more than that, more than a staff-saving outing, more than a badly needed win for a poorly performing team. Wakefield didn't give up a hit through 7 1/3 innings, until Kurt Suzuki evoked memories of Shannon Stewart.
"I told him, I said, 'Listen, I understand the circumstances of the day, and I just want you to know whatever happens - don't take me out. Let me keep going,' " said Wakefield, who had come within two outs of a no-hitter June 19, 2001, against Tampa Bay.
It was an easy decision for Francona to let Takashi Saito remain on the bullpen mound. Because, other than hiccups in the eighth and ninth, Wakefield had this one, reminiscent of Curt Schilling's no-hit bid two years ago in the same stadium that was denied one out shy on a line single by Stewart.
Yesterday's win was one that, Francona said, "We desperately needed," given that there were few pitching options for a team in danger of slipping five games under .500 just three series into the season.
"Obviously, you have to be more economical when you have to go deep in the game," Wakefield said. "I was able to throw a lot of strikes, and that was one thing I really concentrated on going into the game, is get the first-pitch strikes and get them swinging early. They did that."
After Mike Lowell contributed a second-inning two-run home run to put the Sox up, 2-0, it was left to Wakefield and the defense. And there were significant moments for both.
There was the off-target throw by shortstop Nick Green that was handled by Kevin Youkilis, who tagged Mark Ellis, in the second. There was the warning track catch by Jacoby Ellsbury on Landon Powell that nearly made a dent in the wall in right-center in the sixth. There was the brilliant leaping, twisting, tumbling play behind second base by Green in the seventh on a fisted ball by Jack Cust, prompting Wakefield to raise his arms and point to the Sox' third option at shortstop.
There was the error by Lowell.
Five innings into the game, as Suzuki grounded a seemingly easy ball to third base, the owner of the best fielding percentage all time at his position let the bounce hit his glove. It trickled away and, with it, the chance at perfection. The first base runner was on.
"There was a ball that my son could catch, so I wanted to show him that anyone could make a mistake," Lowell deadpanned. "I wanted to set a good example. No, I wish I had a really good explanation and I don't.
"I don't want to look at video because I'll probably throw up if I do. If I could have crawled under third base, I would have. Especially in a perfect game, are you kidding me?"
The game might not have been perfect heading into the eighth, but there was just that error to mar it. Still, it had been a long wait to get to this point. As Wakefield sat by himself in the dugout, the team that seems to never give him any run support - and which hadn't hit much this season - exploded for six runs, all with two outs.
Beginning with a double to right by the struggling David Ortiz, eight straight batters reached base, including an intentional walk to Youkilis followed by a three-run shot by J.D. Drew. Three more singles, two more walks, and the Sox led by eight runs.
Wakefield walked Ellis to open the eighth, the first base runner he had put on. He got Travis Buck, the hero of the night before with an RBI infield single in the 12th, to fly out to center. Then came Suzuki and, on Wakefield's 78th pitch, the line single to left.
"First, I was rooting for us," Francona said. "Then when we spread the game out a little bit, then it can become a little more personal. Then again, you never lose sight of the fact that you're trying to win a game. He left one up, it got hit. That didn't take away from the way he pitched."
It also allowed Lowell, though disappointed for Wakefield, to breathe a bit. And it allowed him to express something he had wanted to for three innings.
"I didn't want to say anything because he was still throwing a no-hitter," Lowell said. "When he allowed the walk and then Suzuki got the hit, at the end of the inning I profoundly apologized. He said, 'For what?' I said, 'Because it changed everything.'
"Let's put it this way," Lowell continued. "There was a chance I cost him a place in history, and I needed to apologize profusely for that."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.