Wait is starting to get heavy for Wakefield
SEATTLE - This is starting to feel like waiting for the completion of the Neponset Bridge project. Or like waiting for Shaq to rescue the Celtics in the playoffs.
The Wait for Wake has become the Weight.
Tim Wakefield went for victory No. 200 at Safeco Field yesterday and again lost to Charlie Furbush and the moribund Mariners, 5-3. It was the ancient knuckler’s fourth attempt at 200.
This should be a joyful time in the long, proud career of Tim Wakefield. He’s a peaceful man, a champion of charity, and a great teammate. He is 45 years old, still pitching in the big leagues for a pennant contender, and he is on the threshold of a cherished plateau. Since the beginning of the 20th century, only 88 major league pitchers have recorded 200 big league victories. Sandy Koufax didn’t do it. Dennis Eckersley didn’t do it. Dizzy Dean didn’t do it.
Wakefield is going to do it. But the weight of the wait hangs like Logan fog in the Red Sox clubhouse. Wakefield’s quest for 200 is now officially longer and more torturous than the Yaz Watch (going for hit No. 3,000) of 1979.
Yaz went three games and 0 for 13 while Red Sox Nation stirred restlessly. Finally, Yaz hit a dribbler to the left of Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph and Randolph mercifully waved at the ball as it rolled into right field and into history.
Wake was only 13 in the summer of ’79 and he was not a Red Sox fan. After yesterday’s frustrating outing, I told him about the Yaz Watch.
“So is this the Wake Watch now?’’ he asked softly.
Yes, it is. The Wake Watch Tour Across America has already visited Chicago, Boston, Minnesota, and Seattle, and is due to play Kansas City next weekend. Maybe they can sell T-shirts like the Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels Tour’’ back in the day.
Wakefield won No. 199 against the Mariners July 24. Five days later in Chicago he gave up only three runs in seven innings, but lost, 3-1. Then he came home and almost got it against Cleveland, but Terry Francona pulled him in the seventh inning with the score tied. The Sox eventually won on Jacoby Ellsbury’s walkoff homer in the ninth.
Wakefield’s next start in Minnesota was most frustrating. He hurled seven respectable innings and left with a 6-5 lead. He was set to have his postgame photo taken with the “200 win’’ baseball, but Alfredo Aceves coughed up the tying run in the eighth and picked up a vulture victory when the Sox scored two in the ninth for an 8-6 win.
Yesterday at Safeco Field was another tease. Wakefield retired the first six batters and was humming along in a scoreless duel when he got squeezed by plate ump Brian O’Nora on a 3-and-2 pitch to Casper Wells in the third inning. That was only the beginning. With two aboard and none out, the Mariners wound up with the bases loaded when Wild Ed Hickox ruled that Jed Lowrie failed to touch second base on a routine 3-6 throw from Adrian Gonzalez. Things unraveled from there and the Mariners wound up with three runs in the inning.
Francona never thought about lifting Wakefield even when he gave up a run in the fifth, and a solo homer to Wells in the sixth. Wakefield went the distance, throwing only 94 pitches.
“He didn’t look tired, he wasn’t laboring,’’ said Francona.
The field boss says he’s mindful of Wakefield’s situation, but does not change tactics to help his pitcher get No. 200.
“You can’t do that,’’ said Tito.
Still, it’s awkward. And it’s becoming a minor distraction. Wakefield is at a point where he just wants to put 200 behind him and get on with the season.
“I think everyone on the team is pulling for Wake,’’ said Jonathan Papelbon. “Even our manager is doing everything in his power to get him that 200th win. Wake can’t do any more than he’s doing. He’s gone deep into the games. He’s just got to keep going out there.’’
Is Wakefield pressing?
“I don’t care about it,’’ he said. “The first couple of times, yeah, but I’m just trying to make quality starts and get us wins.’’
He said there’s been some tough luck during the quest.
“Some weird stuff happened in Minnesota,’’ said the knuckler. “There’s been some bloop hits and stuff that happened.’’
With the Weight of the Wait still with him, Wakefield went about packing his stuff for the long trip home to Boston.
The Band’s Robbie (no relation to David) Robertson would have said Wakefield looked like a man feeling about half-past dead - a man in need of a place to lay his head.
Done packing, Wakefield picked up his bags and went looking for a place to hide.
Maybe next weekend in Kansas City.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.