10/22/2004 7:26 PM ET
Wakefield gets a second chance
What a difference a year makes for knuckleballer
By Jim Street / MLB.com
|Tim Wakefield answers questions from the media during Friday's press conference. (Charles Krupa/AP)
BOSTON -- Right-hander Tim Wakefield has waited a year for this starting assignment.
If the versatile veteran hadn't pitched in the decisive Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees last season, and the Red Sox had won that winner-take-all game, he would have started Game 1 of the World Series at Fenway Park against the Florida Marlins.
The final knuckleball Wakefield threw in 2003 landed in the left-field seats at Yankee Stadium, sent there by Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone. The 11th inning walk-off home run ended another chapter in the storied history between the two AL East rivals.
The sequel to that devastating finish has been written, the Red Sox are the new AL champions and Wakefield finds himself preparing for the first World Series start of his career -- Saturday night against the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.
What a difference a year makes.
"I was disappointed with the way it ended last year and my feelings from last year to this year are completely different, obviously," Wakefield said Friday. "I'm just thankful that we get the opportunity to play longer and play in the World Series.
"Starting (Game 1) really means a lot to me. I'm going to try to do my best and take full advantage of the opportunity and help bring this city a world championship."
Wakefield, who had a record of 12-10 and 4.87 ERA during the regular season, appeared in three of the seven games against the Yankees in the ALCS, compiling an 8.59 ERA. But the four innings he pitched in the Yankees' 19-8 romp in Game 3 might have been the most important of the series.
"As tough a night that was, I was proud of him and what he did for us," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He saved a couple of our pitchers and that actually helped us win the next night."
Getting the ball for Game 1 of the Fall Classic is the reward for a job well done.
"I was told that if Derek (Lowe) was pitching well enough in Game 7 to get to the fifth or sixth inning, then they (Francona and pitching coach Dave Wallace) were going to try to save me to be the Game 1 starter in the World Series," Wakefield said.
Lowe held the Yankees to one hit and one run over six innings, starter-turned-reliever Pedro Martinez pitched one inning, and the Red Sox captured their first AL championship in 18 years.
"Once we stayed away from Wake (Wednesday) he was our Game 1 starter," Francona said. "I'm excited for him to start, and he's going to do fine. I think it will be fun."
In a veteran move, Wakefield avoided getting specific Friday when asked to break down the Cardinals lineup.
"No, unfortunately I can't do that," he said, getting laughter from his audience. "They have a tough lineup, pretty similar to the one we just saw in New York. You've got speed at the top and you've got dangerous guys in the middle.
"It's kind of like ours, too. It's just one of those lineups that you have got to be very careful with because they can do a lot of damage quick."
So can the fluttering knuckleball that Wakefield throws.
As catcher Jason Varitek can attest, just catching the Wakefield knuckler is a challenge, let alone trying to hit it. Varitek was charged with three passed balls during a harrowing one-inning stint in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium.
"You know, Jason did a great job with me the other night," said Wakefield. "The ball was moving all over the place. He missed a couple, but he did a tremendous job catching me."
The cool, fall weather could be a factor in Saturday night's opener.
"As long as it's not raining too bad, it should be OK," Wakefield said. "It's tough holding onto the ball with your fingertips when it's cold. But I think it's going to be tough conditions for both pitchers."
But nowhere close to how tough it was a year ago.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.