Slow, steady Wakefield is carving out his place in Red Sox history
It is fitting that
And, on Friday night, the Tortoise will pass the Rocket. Then on Sunday -- at age 42 -- he may finally reach the Stars.
"Not bad for a guy who didn't make it as a minor league infielder and was waived by the Pirates," says Yankees outfielder
Not bad at all. In fact, it actually is pretty darn good. Wakefield will take his warmups against the Mariners and sometime around 7:10 p.m. ET Friday he will throw his first pitch. Those in attendance at Fenway Park will probably stand and cheer that simple act, a fluttering 70 mph pitch delivered to
The cheers will not be for the pitch. But for all the pitches that Wakefield has thrown as a Red Sox and all the batters he has faced and all that he has meant as a key figure in the transition from cursed team to two-time champion.
Suzuki will represent the 11,525th hitter to step into the box against Wakefield since he joined the Red Sox on a minor league contract in April 1995, six days after the Pirates could tolerate his wildness no more and released him. That pitch will begin Wakefield's 383rd start for Boston, breaking a tie with
"It is really impressive," Boston GM
And this might just be the beginning of an unforgettable Independence Day weekend for Wakefield. On Sunday the All-Star teams will be announced, and Wakefield is a borderline candidate. He is tied for the AL lead in wins at 10-3, but his ERA is 4.18 and the AL is loaded with excellent rotation candidates, including Kansas City's
But Wakefield might be helped by having a great story attached, one that's naturally tied to his persistence. If named to the AL team, Wakefield -- a month shy of his 43rd birthday -- would become the second-oldest player ever selected to his first major league All-Star Game. He would fall only behind
"I am pulling for him bad," says
Wakefield has endeared himself to his teammates and his fan base. He was a failed infielder in Pittsburgh who learned the knuckleball to survive in pro ball. He had meteoric success in the early 1990s with the Pirates, only to fall backward just as quickly.
He was a surprise blessing who helped the 1995 Red Sox win the AL East and was furious when the organization left him off the ALCS roster in 1999, a year in which without rancor he went from starter to closer (when
But Wakefield is the Tortoise. And slowly and surely he kept inching forward, moving deeper and deeper into the Red Sox history books and the goodwill of a fan base.
Back in the ALCS in 2004, the Red Sox were getting crushed in Game 3 by the Yankees, about to fall down three-games-to-none. Boston was running out of pitchers. Wakefield was scheduled to start Game 4. "Tito [manager
Two days later, in a lose-and-go home Game 5, Wakefield threw three shutout innings of relief, covering the 12th, 13th and 14th innings. He was the winning pitcher. The Red Sox rallied from the three-nothing hole. Beat the Yankees. Won it all. Ended the Curse.
Wakefield, married to a Boston girl by then, knew where he wanted to be, forever. So the following April his agent,
"In those negotiations he made it a priority to stay in Boston over the last dollar," Epstein says.
Damon says, "He cost himself a ton of money over the years, but that is where he loves playing. His heart is there."
He has outlasted an entire first round of excellent pitchers from his 1988 draft, such as
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