Wakefield, Sox make their mark
He claims team innings record
CLEVELAND — Above each locker in the visitors’ clubhouse at Progressive Field are two metal bars into which a piece of white paper is slipped. Normally that paper bears the name of the player inhabiting the locker. But, after last night’s 3-2 win over the Indians, one member of the Red Sox had a new label affixed. “Wakefield’’ was gone, replaced by “2777.’’
That number marked the total innings Tim Wakefield has pitched for the Sox, passing Roger Clemens for most in the history of the franchise, an unfathomable accomplishment given that Wakefield started his professional career as an infielder and was later released by the Pirates, a club not known for having excess pitching the last two decades.
Wakefield had a Gatorade cup full of champagne, which he raised to catcher Victor Martinez. “Thank you,’’ Wakefield said.
“I feel very blessed to be able to wear this uniform for as long as I have,’’ Wakefield said. “I think it’s a sign of longevity, dealing with adversity, the ups and downs, having an organization that believes in me and has kept me here for as long as I’ve been here.
“It’s a tribute to just never giving up. If I can pass on to somebody, maybe one of those people that are on the bubble, [it] is never quit. I’ve never done that, regardless of how good I’ve pitched or how bad I’ve pitched. It’s always keep striving to be better, and I was fortunate to be here as long as I have been and to get a win tonight and to pass Roger for all time for innings pitched is pretty special.’’
The record was set with one out in the seventh inning, after Russell Branyan popped to shortstop. Martinez asked for the ball, knowing the out marked the surpassing of Clemens’s 2,776 innings with the Sox. Wakefield (2-4) added a win after throwing 7 1/3 innings and giving up two runs (one earned) while striking out six and walking none. He is now 131st all time in innings pitched in the majors with 2,997 1/3, third behind Jamie Moyer and Andy Pettitte among active pitchers.
And with last night’s victory, Wakefield moved closer to the ultimate passing of Clemens, who sits tied with Cy Young for the franchise record for wins with 192. For Wakefield, it was his 177th win with the Sox.
“You look at some names that have pitched in this franchise, that’s a pretty remarkable record,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Says a lot. I think the word may be even tenacity. Just where he was a long, long time ago, that he’s done that, that’s an amazing accomplishment.’’
Wakefield said he was unaware he had gotten the record after retiring Branyan. He didn’t know why Martinez asked for the ball, at least until the catcher passed along the news.
After it was over, Wakefield shared a moment with his coaches before being toasted by his teammates. The knuckleballer praised the coaching staff, saying, “I have a lot of respect for those guys. I went in there and made sure I thanked them first. It means a lot.’’
“It’s fortune and it’s a testament to his durability over time,’’ said Jason Varitek, who has been a teammate of Wakefield’s since 1997. “He’s brought a uniqueness to an organization for an extremely long period of time, and has done a great job doing so.
“The game tends to tell you what you can’t do, and not necessarily what you can do. Someone like Wake believed in something that he could do, and found a way to do it.’’
After giving up an unearned run in the first, Wakefield set down 15 straight until the seventh, when Shin-Soo Choo recorded his second hit (and the second for the Indians overall). Wakefield also allowed one earned run, to the batter immediately after the record-setting out, as Shelley Duncan took him deep to left for a homer.
“Tonight, definitely, his ball was having great movement, great movement,’’ Martinez said. “I had a little tough time on a couple pitches. He was on tonight.’’
Wakefield credited pitching coach John Farrell for finding a mechanical issue in his delivery that allowed him to get his rhythm and timing back after two tough starts, making him more comfortable on the mound. He allowed an unearned run in the first when Choo got credit for a triple on a ball Mike Cameron couldn’t catch up to and scored on an error by Adrian Beltre.
“He pumped a lot of strikes, used the fastball at times, used the breaking ball at times,’’ Francona said. “But he just stayed in the strike zone, gave up the first run on a ball that [Cameron] dives for and we don’t execute on the ground ball. After that, he was nails. And kind of neat on a night that he sets a record, it’s a nice way to do it.’’
That win came from Wakefield’s pitching — and from a mistake by the Indians.
Center fielder Trevor Crowe dropped what should have been the third out of the fourth inning. The error allowed Martinez to pull into second with two outs. Harmless, right?
Not quite. After Crowe’s error, the Sox had four straight hits, a double by Kevin Youkilis, singles by David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre, and a double by Bill Hall, good for a 3-1 lead.
“We took advantage of it,’’ Francona said. “If nobody gets hits after that, it’s like, OK, it happened and you move on. We strung together hits and had real good swings. So good for us.’’
And good for Wakefield, who had not yet heard from Clemens. The two had a close relationship when they pitched together for the Sox, and now Wakefield has passed his former teammate to stand alone in the record books.
“He kind of took me under his wing and showed me how to work hard and never give up,’’ Wakefield said.
“Just to be mentioned in that kind of company or to be able to pass a guy like Roger, who’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion, is very special. I’m very honored and humbled at the same time to be able to last as long as I have to be able to pass some numbers he put up.’’