Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Float on

Beware: another sentimental piece about the Sox' longest (currently) tenured veteran. I missed Tim Wakefield's complete game victory tonight, in which he stopped a 3-game skid by the struggling Sox and flirted with a no-hitter in the process. I feel like I at least owe him an article in return.

Wakey. He and Jason Varitek are the only two players remaining from the 1999 squad that, at age 11, turned me into a rabid Red Sox fan. I knew him that year as the team's ad-hoc closer. To be honest, most of my memories of the '99 year are of Pedro Martinez's astonishing dominance, and of Nomar Garciaparra's continued brilliance at the plate. Wakey didn't really stand out in my adolescent mind. His knuckleball, I suppose, wasn't quirky enough by itself to capture the imagination of an 11-year old.

My appreciation for Wakey has grown immensely over time. Year in, year out, he gives the Sox more or less the same thing: league average ERA and 150-200 innings. The stats he puts up aren't scintillating, but the fact that he still can go out and get the job done as he has for so long, using his one, utterly strange pitch is somewhat remarkable.

My dad has often pondered aloud, "why would someone throw a knuckleball?" He asks, not out of doubt in its effectiveness, but out of genuine curiosity. Why would someone throw so strange a pitch, one that can be completely unpredictable and requires a much different set of skills than normal pitching? I digress.

It's not just Wakefield's maddening ability to consistently be pretty good that endears him to me and, I think, so many other Sox fans. Consider this quote from the AP recap of yesterday's game:

"When Tim Wakefield stopped by Terry Francona's office Wednesday morning, he already realized the Boston Red Sox were staggering. They had lost six of seven while struggling to hit, and their bullpen was gassed after pitching 11 innings Tuesday night.

'I understand the circumstances of today,' Wakefield recalled telling his manager. 'No matter what, don't take me out.'"

I try not to sentimentality get the best of me, but seriously, how can any Red Sox fan read that and not be somewhat moved.

What if he'd gotten shelled? The quote wouldn't have even made the press; Francona wouldn't have let it be known. That doesn't matter to me. Tim Wakefield took the ball and did his job, as he has done for the Red Sox for 15 seasons now. And yesterday, he went a bit beyond his usual job description, and gave the team a big win, and the bullpen more rest. Will this matter much in October? Maybe, in a butterfly effect sort of way. Most likely, no. That's all the more reason to appreciate Wakey, and the year's of reliable work he's given the team, doing his job. Occasionally he frustrates us, but every now and then, he can still spin some magic.

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