To the nines
Wakefield is looking sharp again, tying for majors' second-best win total
As the question was asked, as the term “All-Star’’ came up, manager Terry Francona couldn’t help but smile. He waved off some of those thoughts, but the fact remains that the manager answered, “Extremely,’’ when asked how cool it would be to see Tim Wakefield’s name among those chosen by Rays manager Joe Maddon for the July 14 game in St. Louis.
“And I don’t get too caught up in that kind of talk, because I really think that we talk about team goals and things like that,’’ Francona added. “But there’s no doubt that we pull for [him]. We’re human. There’s no getting around that.’’
With each win, the notion has become less outlandish - that Wakefield, less than two months before his 43d birthday, could make his first appearance in an All-Star Game. Last night, Wakefield allowed just two runs in six innings as the Sox beat the Marlins, 8-2, in a game that clocked in at just 2 hours 30 minutes.
“He gets it and throws it, and he throws it over the plate with movement,’’ Francona said. “That’s what he’s been doing for a lot of years.’’
Given recent history, it shouldn’t have been surprising that Wakefield dispatched the Marlins. Not with these statistics: The knuckleballer was 7-0 in his last eight starts in Boston. Make that 8-0, with a 2.79 ERA. Wakefield notched his ninth win of the season, his 90th career win at Fenway, making the Sox a major league-best 22-8 at home this season.
Wakefield became the fifth starter this season to reach nine wins, ahead of Zack Greinke and Johan Santana (still at eight apiece) and behind just Roy Halladay (10). Chad Billingsley, Matt Cain, and Kevin Slowey also have won nine. He lowered his ERA to 4.39, and continued to provide a steady, at times brilliant complement to the rest of a staff that will grow one larger with John Smoltz’s return next week.
“Boy, he has been good for us,’’ Francona said. “There’s been days where we’ve had some losing streaks and he’s gone out, early in the year, and thrown nine solid innings. He’s so consistent with a pitch that’s not consistent.’’
But in recent years, the seasons haven’t ended well for Wakefield. He has gotten injured, and been left out of the rotation in the postseason. So he changed things this year, including his postgame routine and his between-starts routine. His pitch count has been cut off below 100 in six of his last seven starts, and has not gotten over 101 in any of his last nine.
As Francona said, “We’re trying to learn from history to keep him going longer like he can pitch. In the last couple years, we have gotten towards the end and he’s worn down and his shoulder’s bothered him, and I don’t see that happening right now. If we can be cognizant of that, maybe we don’t get to that part.’’
“I’ve been hurt the last two years late in the season, and we discussed about taking some time off during the year,’’ Wakefield said. “I did a lot of work in the offseason and am doing a lot of work doing the season with our training staff to try to stay healthy, and I feel unbelievable at this point in the season.
“We’ve incorporated some different theories on my workload in between starts. Doing a lot more stretching after I come out of a game instead of just icing, and waiting till the next day to do anything. So we’re taking a more proactive approach to keeping me healthy, keeping me stretched out.’’
And it appears to be working, as Wakefield held down the Marlins until his teammates could come up big in the fourth, allowing him to be taken out early.
The effort was helped by a surging David Ortiz, who in the Sox’ six-run fourth inning hit his fifth homer and a two-run single. In days of yore (or a couple of weeks ago), two hits and three RBIs was a good couple of games for the DH.
No longer. Now homers are commonplace enough that they have ceased to bring Ortiz out of the dugout waving his helmet. Though the crowd of 38,149 cheered for a curtain call, they would not get it.
“I think David really is swinging the bat really well,’’ Francona said. “We actually told him, ‘Don’t look at your batting average right now, because you’re going to make outs sometimes.’ But he’s swinging the bat right now just like he’s supposed to.’’
Though Mike Lowell followed Ortiz’s homer by lining out - he would record two of the three outs in the inning - the Sox continued with a single by Jacoby Ellsbury, an RBI double by Nick Green, an RBI single by George Kottaras, a single by Dustin Pedroia, and a walk by Kevin Youkilis, which knocked Florida starter Chris Volstad out of the game. The Sox weren’t done, though, as Jason Bay greeted reliever Burke Badenhop with a bases-loaded walk to score the fourth run.
Then Ortiz hit his two-run single to right field, and Lowell mercifully ended the inning against his former team.
Wakefield started out about as well as any pitcher could, striking out Chris Coghlan and Ross Gload on six pitches. He did allow six hits and walked one in his six innings. He left the final three innings to the bullpen, having thrown 93 pitches, both because he was available out of the bullpen Saturday and Sunday and because he’ll be the only starter pitching this week without an extra day of rest.
Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Wakefield’s knuckler, “You can watch all the video and all the tape and all that kind of stuff and all the advance, but until you go out there and face it and see what that thing does and the speed, it’s hard to make adjustments.’’
The Marlins couldn’t make them. And as for that All-Star honor?
“Hopefully, I’m mentioned again this year,’’ Wakefield said. “Hopefully, I’m at least considered for a spot, and if I make it, great. If not, I’ll finish up the second half.’’