Boston on Wake Watch (again)
It has become a somewhat joyless pursuit. It's almost a little embarrassing.
Weather permitting, Tim Wakefield is scheduled to take the mound at Fenway Park against the Oakland A's Friday night. It will be his sixth attempt to pick up the 200th win of his career
Wake's wait has become something of an albatross.
Wakefield won No. 199 against the Mariners at Fenway July 24. He first went for No. 200 in Chicago on July 29. Since then he's tried to do it in Minnesota, Boston, Seattle and Kansas City. That's five cities in three time zones. All in the quest of No. 200.
Here in Boston, it's hard not to be reminded of the infamous Yaz Watch in the summer of 1979. Boston's Hall of Fame outfielder flew a lot of family members into the Hub for his milestone hit, then went cold. It took Yaz three games and 12 plate appearances (0-10 with two walks) before he finally hit a ground ball single to right (thank you, Yankee second baseman, Willie Randolph for not going too hard after the bleeder) for base hit no. 3,000.
I reminded Wakefield of the Yaz Watch after Wake was denied in Seattle August 14. Tim was only 13 years old back in 1979 and there's no way he could have known about the Boston captain's interminable quest for 3,000.
"So is this the Wake Watch now?,'' Wakefield asked.
Yes. And it's getting a little uncomfortable.
Wakefield is 45 years old, officially the oldest player in Major League Baseball. He's attempting to become only the 89th pitcher since 1900 to record 200 victories. Winning 200 is something that Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax were unable to accomplish.
Wakefield is not the first pitcher to experience a long wait for No. 200. Mike Mussina did it on his fifth try, Charlie Hough on his sixth. Steve Carlton needed seven starts to get it.
The Sox knuckleball specialist admits he's a little anxious, but adds, "I'm just trying to make quality starts and get us wins.''
He hasn't been bad in his five tries for 200. Just not good enough. And there's been some bad luck along the way.
He gave up only three runs in seven innings against the White Sox, but the Sox offense stalled and Boston lost, 3-1. In his next start against Cleveland he was pulled in the seventh inning of a tie game. The Sox went on to win, but Wakefield got a no-decision.
In his third attempt, Wakefield left after seven with a 6-5 lead over the Twins, but Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves surrendered the tying run in the eighth and wound up getting a vulture win in the ninth.
Safeco Field was next and Wakefield lost, 5-3, even though he hurled a complete game at the Mariners.
Things got really absurd when Wakefield went for No. 200 for the fifth time last Saturday night in Kansas City. He had a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth and struck out the first batter of the inning. Then came an infield single and back-to-back doubles. The Sox were still leading 4-3, when Matt Albers relieved Wakefield, but the damage had only just begun. The Royals wound up with eight runs in the inning and routed the Sox, 9-4.
"It is what it is,'' said Wakefield. "We're trying to win the game, not trying to do a favor for me.''
It's become a tricky situation for Terry Francona. The Sox are locked in a tight race with the Yankees for the AL East title. The manager's job is to win games -- not to worry about individual milestones.
"I think everyone on the team is pulling for Wake,'' said closer 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 is doing. He's gone deep into games. He's just got to keep going out there.''
Francona denies he's tinkering with strategy in order to accommodate his veteran pitcher, but everyone acknowledges that this is a delicate situation. The Sox pushed Wakefield back a day this week, which should help. Pitching against the A's at Fenway is a lot easier than facing the Rangers in 100-degree heat in Texas. In 21 games in Texas (15 starts) Wakefield is 5-13 with a 6.38 ERA. Since the start of the 2008 season, Wakefield has an ERA of 11.90 against the Rangers, including nine earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in Arlington. The A's, meanwhile, are the second-worst hitting team in the American league.
Sooner or later, Wakefield will get the win. He'll be all smiles, holding the baseball with "200" written in Sharpie.
"We want to win,'' said Red Sox second baseman and team leader Dustin Pedroia. "It's come for him. It's only a matter of time.''
Winning 200 games in the majors is a huge accomplishment. But right now everybody just wants it over with. The pursuit of an impressive achievement has become a burden -- even to the man trying to get there.