10/12/2003 8:43 PM ET
Wakefield eyes repeat performance
Game 4 starter's knuckler baffled Yanks in ALCS opener
BOSTON -- There is more to right-hander Tim Wakefield's pitching repertoire than just a knuckleball. He also throws a fastball, curveball and cut fastball.
By Jim Street / MLB.com
But when his knuckleball is hitting the four corners of the strike zone, the way it did at Yankee Stadium in the American League Championship Series opener last Wednesday night, he'll throw it up to 80-85 percent of the time.
The percentage of knuckleballs the Yankees see in Game 4 at Fenway Park -- pushed back to Monday night because of rain on Sunday -- is anyone's guess. It might be higher than 80 percent, or less than 50 percent.
After all these years, the 37-year-old Red Sox starter never really knows how effective his most effective pitch will be on any given day. But it can be so good that manager Grady Little is bypassing scheduled Game 4 starter John Burkett and starting Wakefield instead.
The AL Wild Card team trails the best-of-seven series, 2-1, and Wakefield was the Game 1 winner at Yankee Stadium. He dazzled New York with a knuckleball that danced the night away.
The big question going into Monday night's game is just how effective will the pitch be?
It is such a "feel" pitch that Wakefield doesn't always have a clue how it will act.
"A conventional pitcher sometimes may not have his best stuff," he said Sunday evening in a pre-rainout press conference at Fenway Park. "For me it is the feel. On the days I may not have a good feel of the pitch, I still have to go out there and pitch and get outs.
"There really isn't an indicator to tell me whether I feel like I have it. I use my time in the bullpen to get loose and get a feel of the pitch. I've left the 'pen thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm not even going to last one inning' and end up going six or seven strong innings."
At other times, he has come out of the bullpen thinking he has a great knuckleball and couldn't control the pitch at all.
His knuckleball baffled the Yankees in Game 1.
Wakefield held the Yankees to two runs over six-plus innings in the Red Sox's 5-2 victory, the AL East champion's first loss since opening the Division Series with a loss to the Twins.
"It was not like the first day against Minnesota," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We were pumped up. Not that I thought we weren't pumped up (for the ALCS opener), but I thought we were under control.
"(Wakefield) was very good. So you just have to wait and see and hope we can break through."
This will be the third time this season that Wakefield has faced the Yankees two straight times.
"I've had back-to-back starts against the same club and done well in the first start, poorly in the second start, and vice versa.
He lost both of his starts (May 21 and August 31) against the Yankees at Fenway Park, but beat them at Yankee Stadium (May 26 and September 6).
"I'm going to take it like any start during the regular season and just prepare myself mentally," he said. "I'll be mentally prepared going into tomorrow."
He hopes his knuckleball is equally prepared.
While Wakefield makes his scheduled start, Burkett suffered the most from Sunday night's rainout.
"I am disappointed," he said. "I was here ready to pitch, doing everything I need to get ready to pitch. But you have to go with the guys ahead of me and Timmy is ahead of me. You have to do that. I am still disappointed, but I understand.
"Hopefully we will get to a Game 6 and that will be an exciting time for me. But I definitely was looking forward to tonight. I was getting fired up, ready to go.
"It's over. You go home, have dinner and watch a football game I guess. It won't affect me later on, but I definitely wanted to pitch tonight, that's what I'm here for."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League baseball or its clubs.