April 16, 2009

" No Matter What, Don't Take Me Out"

Tim Wakefield, to manager Terry Francona a few hours before Wednesday afternoon's game:
I understand the circumstances of today. No matter what, don't take me out.
After seven innings in Oakland, Tim Wakefield had thrown a mere 67 pitches, 50 of them for strikes. He was five outs away from being the second-oldest pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter.
They were really aggressive early, and then something kind of clicked in the second or third inning. I'm not disappointed. Obviously [a no-hitter] is something that's great to try to get, but the most important thing was to preserve our bullpen.


Wakefield ended up allowing four hits and two runs, but finished with a complete game. A few people in the game thread said that if anyone on the Red Sox staff deserves to experience the joy of pitching a no-hitter -- and a no-hitter in the sunshine of a weekday afternoon -- it was Tim Wakefield.

It would be foolish to disagree. But the most important thing for me will always be that after 2003, this man -- this veteran of the Red Sox, who after loyally serving as a starter, closer, long man, and whatever other role he was asked to fill -- was terrified of being cursed as a villain, of spending the rest of his days hated by the fans he had pitched in front of for nearly a decade.

The following spring, Wakefield discovered that he had not been branded a pariah. If anything, he had truly become one of us, the suffering Nation. In the 2004 ALCS, he again put himself before the team, offering to eat innings in the Game 3 blowout so that the rest of the staff might be rested for however many games might still remain of the season. He ended up starting the first game of the 2004 World Series, at Fenway Park. And a week later, he was celebrating Boston's first World Series championship in 86 years.

Any type of win on Wednesday would have been welcome. But to watch Tim Wakefield flirt with perfection, to see him show such precision and economy for those first seven innings -- a performance that would have caused 1999Pedro to do a double take, let out a low whistle and mutter "God damn!" -- was extra special.

Wakefield's win today was his 165th as a Red Sox pitcher. He trails only Cy Young and Roger Clemens (who both have 192) in team history. I hope he can stick around for another 28 victories.

13 comments:

Jere said...

He really said that?! Finally, someone agrees with my years-old "never take Wakefield out" theory, and it's the man himself! Woohoo!

chief said...

Hear, hear Redsock. Well said as always.

Amy said...

Great post. I have always had a soft spot for Wakefield. Something about his demeanor as well as his sportsmanship. (Sportspersonship?) It never even occurred to me in 2003 to make him the scapegoat. Zimmer, yes, but Wakefield, who had put himself on the line again and again? Never. I, too, feared others would make him the Bill Buckner of 2003, but fortunately Red Sox fans were smarter and kinder than that.

FenFan said...

Any reason to make Wake the villian of 2003 would be foolish. Great post as always. He remains my favorite player and I'm going to miss him when he does hang up his cleats.

If ever we needed a performance like that, yesterday was THE day and it was good to see the bats finally wake up, even if it took until the eighth to do so. I can only hope that it carries over into the series with Baltimore this weekend and the remainder of the home stand.

Gareth said...

Great piece. I remember thinking when Boone's HR went up that Wake was feeling exactly the same as the Sox fans watching and despairing, and I think that's why 2004 opened with no sense of him being the villain of the piece.

Bob said...

Couldn't agree more with your post. Wakefield epitomizes what it means to be a professional - and what it means to be a team player.

With Wakefield's physical conditioning and the lack of stress that his knuckleball puts on his arm, he may rack up another 28 wins as a Red Sock. That would be a fitting tribute for Wake.

The Omnipotent Q said...

Tim Wakefield: all class, all the time.

Thanks, Wake. We needed that.

Jere said...

Did Amy confuse the '03 manager with the '78 manager? Or was she referring to the Gerbil's role in the best moment ever?

Kyle said...

Is it me or do the Sox new away jersey's just not inspire RED sox? They are almost void of any red. Not sure I like it.

andy said...

Just when you get down on wake he snaps back and is brilliant. He doesn't pitch the knuckler he just goes where it leads him.

Dr. Jeff said...

Best post of the season. And it's not just about baseball, it's about sports. I can't think of one guy in the NFL that is as unselfish as this. Well done.

Dr. Jeff said...

It also reminded me about the Hershiser incident in the playoffs, when he was on that huge postseason scoreless innings streak. Did he ask to be taken out after allowing baserunners, with the thought that if the reliever closes the deal, his scoreless innings streak is preserved? Or was that a myth. Hershisher was generally a class act, but I saw that game on TV, and it was strange.

LJCohen said...

Wake is most definitely a class act. We have his signature on a baseball and it's one of our family's prized possessions.