08/11/2002 5:01 pm ET
Wakefield hits the century mark
Versatile pitcher nets 100th career win
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Aside from co-Cy Young Award candidates Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, it would be impossible to find a more valuable pitcher on this year's Red Sox team than Mr. Reliable himself, Tim Wakefield.
He's pitched long relief, middle relief, short relief, and, on occasion, his preferred role of starting. Not only has he filled all the different roles, but he's performed them at a high level.
The latest example was Sunday afternoon, when Wakefield got the start and made the first-place Twins look helpless on a day his knuckleball was in complete control.
Thanks to Wakefield's mastery, which included eight innings, four hits, one earned run, no walks and seven strikeouts, the Red Sox topped the Twins, 3-1, to take the rubber match of the three-game series. It was a good way to end the homestand, especially with a tough six-game road trip through Seattle and Minnesota coming up.
It was the 100th victory of the knuckleballer's career, and the 86th with the Red Sox.
"It's special," Wakefield said. "This was a special win because it's my 100th. My parents were here to get to see it. They flew in Friday. They saw my first, and they were here to see this one. It is a special win for the team too, considering we haven't been playing too (well)."
Believe it or not, Wakefield, who joined the Red Sox in 1995, has been with this team longer than anyone. His teammates are accustomed to his value by now. But that doesn't mean they are any less appreciated.
"(Wakefield) had a great day, he really did," praised Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. "He pitched a great game. Tim's been huge for us all year. He's been one of the most valuable guys out there on our pitching staff. He's done everything in all the years I've played with him."
But never more consistently than this season. A typical Wakefield summer is filled with peaks and valleys. But this season, he's been a rock for the most part. In his seven starts, he's given up one earned run or less. Overall, he is 6-4 with a 3.39 ERA.
With his unusual versatility, it sometimes makes it tough for a manager to decide which role Wakefield can fill best.
"It makes it very tough," Red Sox manager Grady Little said.
Decision time is coming soon for Little.
Wakefield replaced Rolando Arrojo in the rotation a couple of weeks ago, but with Dustin Hermanson 10 days or so from being activated, Little has to decide which role he will be used in.
If Hermanson starts, Wakefield is likely to go back to the bullpen, largely because the Red Sox have missed his dependability dearly in the sixth and seventh innings.
But after watching Wakefield's Sunday mastery, Little didn't seem as warm on that idea as he did 24 hours earlier.
"I can't really think of how we could take a guy like that out of the rotation when he is pitching like that," Little said.
In past years, Wakefield didn't enjoy bouncing like a pinball from one role to another. But the 2002 Wakefield hasn't made one complaint. Sunday, he provided the reason for that.
"It's been a lot easier this year because of Grady," Wakefield said. "Grady's been a blessing for me because he has confidence in me to do either role -- relief or start."
Wakefield didn't always feel that confidence under previous managers Jimy Williams and Joe Kerrigan.
"I think in years past, I was shunned to the bullpen ... for whatever reason, I don't know. I just felt like I was being used as a mop-up guy. So (this season) has been a breath of fresh air for me personally."
And he says that air will remain fresh whether he starts or not.
"I know I'm going to get another start in Minnesota, but after that I really don't know," Wakefield said. "Whatever the decision is, I will back it 100 percent because that's what this team needs, not what I need."
What the Red Sox needed Sunday was the momentum to be carried over from Martinez's Saturday gem. And they needed to win a series at home, something they have done precious times in recent weeks.
Wakefield set the tone right away, throwing first-pitch strikes to nine of the first 12 batters he faced. And he only got to ball three four different times, which is pretty impressive considering he relies almost exclusively on a pitch that isn't exactly known of its control.
"He was consistently ahead in the count," catcher Doug Mirabelli said. "That made it tough for them because they couldn't wait on him and get into a hitter's count. And when they did try and wait, they got behind."
Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for MLB.com, can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.