Wakefield stumbles as Pirates sail past Sox again
PITTSBURGH — The Pirates released Tim Wakefield on April 20, 1995, his ability to command the knuckleball having vanished. The Red Sox signed him six days later.
“My last year with them, I stunk,’’ Wakefield said. “I was pretty bad. I needed to pitch myself back on the roster and I couldn’t do that.’’
It all changed in Boston. Wakefield has been a fixture for 17 seasons, helping to win two World Series and writing his name in bold letters throughout the franchise record book.
Wakefield returned to Pittsburgh last night, making his first start here since 1993. A crowd of 39,483, the largest ever at PNC Park, greeted him with a loud cheer when he was introduced.
Wakefield was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1992, the last year the Pirates had a winning team. He won two games in the NLCS that season and the fans remembered.
“There was excitement in the air,’’ Wakefield said. “It’s such a different time for this city and these fans. Their team is playing good baseball. It felt good to get a chance to pitch here again.’’
But there was no storybook ending. Wakefield was that same pitcher who couldn’t command his knuckleball and took the loss as the Pirates beat the Red Sox, 6-4.
The Sox have lost four straight and five of their last seven games. They slipped to second in the American League East for the first time since June 5, having fallen a half-game behind the Yankees.
“We started the season 2-10 and we’ve been kicking [butt] ever since. I don’t think anybody’s going to go home and jump out of their hotel room because we’ve lost four in a row,’’ Dustin Pedroia said.
Wakefield (4-3) had a 2-0 lead after three innings then gave up four runs in the fourth and another in the fifth as the Pirates won their fourth straight.
The Red Sox are now 5-6 against what looked like a soft interleague schedule and have seven road games left against NL teams.
Jeff Karstens (5-4) pitched into the seventh inning to get the win, giving up three earned runs. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle used five relievers to get the final seven outs.
Hurdle has deployed his bullpen well in the series, getting six scoreless innings.
“They’ve done a good job the last couple of nights pitching to us,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said. “Picking their spots, pitching around guys. You have to give them a little credit.’’
Pedroia gave the Sox one final chance in the ninth inning with a two-out double off Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan. Right fielder Xavier Paul nearly made a leaping catch at the wall, coming so close that the Pirates set off their celebratory fireworks prematurely.
Adrian Gonzalez, who had already driven in two runs, was next. He struck out to end it and this time the fireworks counted.
The Sox also had a chance in the eighth as Kevin Youkilis reached on an error to start the inning. J.D. Drew struck out and Jarrod Saltalamacchia popped to center before Josh Reddick singled.
Francona had David Ortiz available, but stayed with Marco Scutaro, who popped to center.
“We would have hit David next. If they brought a righty in, we would have hit David,’’ Francona said.
The Red Sox were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base. They are 2 for 23 with runners in scoring position over the last three games.
“We have to do a better job of putting some runs on the board,’’ Saltalamacchia said.
Wakefield shut the Pirates out for three innings, his knuckleball floating along the cool breezes coming off the Allegheny River. But the good times did not last.
Andrew McCutchen led off the fourth inning with an infield single and stole second. Neil Walker drew a walk before Lyle Overbay blasted a knuckleball to the back of the bleachers in right field.
“That pretty much cost us the game,’’ Wakefield said. “I lost a little feel and lost a little rhythm.’’
Overbay, a former Toronto Blue Jay, was 9 of 28 against Wakefield in his career and waited patiently for a floater in the strike zone.
“I got to 3-2 and threw a knuckleball that didn’t have anything on it at the end,’’ Wakefield said.
Ronny Cedeno followed with a double down the line in left. He scored on a single by Karstens, a career .076 hitter who had never driven in a run.
The Pirates kept tagging Wakefield in the fifth inning. Chase d’Arnaud led off with a single and took third on a double to the gap in right by Garrett Jones.
McCutchen followed with a grounder to second base that went between Pedroia’s legs, making it 5-2.
Wakefield lasted six innings, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks. Jones later homered off Matt Albers.
Karstens allowed solo home runs by Gonzalez, Reddick, and Jacoby Ellsbury.
He had not faced the Red Sox since April 28, 2007, when he was with the Yankees. He left that game in the first inning when a line drive off the bat of Julio Lugo broke a bone in his right leg.