Passed balls haunt Sox in loss
Wakefield gives up five runs, but just three are earned
CLEVELAND -- It can be the ultimate double-edged sword, that knuckleball of Tim Wakefield's. When the pitch is at its fluttering, deceptive best, it is as much a challenge for catcher Josh Bard to get in his mitt as it is for opposing hitters to make solid contact.
Wednesday was indeed a rough night for Bard, who committed four passed balls, and Wakefield, who fell to 1-4 on the season in this 7-1 loss to the Indians.
Wakefield (1-4, 3.90 ERA) went 5 2/3 innings and allowed five hits and five runs (three earned) while walking four.
Clearly, Wakefield has pitched better than his record. The Red Sox have scored a grand total of 10 runs in his first five starts, giving him no margin for error.
"We have not scored when he is throwing. That will change," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Wake's done this for a long time and he's been through a lot. The good thing for me is he's throwing the ball well. He has to stay plugging away, which he will, and he'll get rewarded for it."
The most damaging hit of the night came early, courtesy of a three-run homer in the bottom of the first by Jhonny Peralta. With no outs and a 2-1 count, Wakefield tried to sneak a fastball by Peralta. It didn't work.
"I could have hit that ball out," said Wakefield. "I threw a fastball right down the middle. I tried to throw it away and I left it out over the middle the middle of the plate."
The only person who took the loss tougher than Wakefield was Bard. His four passed balls were the most by a Boston catcher since Jason Varitek dropped five of Wakefield's knucklers on May 28, 1999, in a game also played at Jacobs Field. Doug Mirabelli, Wakefield's most recent batterymate, also had four passed balls on July 29, 2003, against the Rangers.
Bard has 10 passed balls on the season. Mike MacFarlane holds the dubious team record with 26 in 1995, Wakefield's first season in Boston.
"I tell Josh that he's doing a great job and to keep his head up and it's not an easy job," said Wakefield. "Coming in and catching me for the first time, he has done a great job. It just seems that the balls he has missed, it has come back to haunt us. In years past, I've been able to pitch out of those situations. I try to pick him up as much as I can. Again, he's doing a great job and he's kind of getting the short end of the stick the first five games."
As for Bard, he offered no excuses for his rough night.
"I just missed 'em," Bard said. "[Wakefield] believes in me, I believe in me, we'll get through this."
The Boston bats had a tough time against Indians lefty Cliff Lee, who earned the win with six strong innings (four hits, one run, seven strikeouts).
"I think that it's a frustrating game when you lose a game like that," said Bard. "I would hope that everybody in here would be frustrated with the way that we played. I thought that Timmy did a good job throwing the ball, but we didn't do a good job behind him, didn't give him any runs and when you do that, you're going to lose."
Wakefield did a pretty good job minimizing the damage after Peralta's early blow, and Wily Mo Pena's solo shot to right made it a 3-1 game in the top of the fourth.
"He took a good swing tonight and he has that ability," Francona said.
Just as the Sox had inched closer, the Indians spread it back out. Victor Martinez led off with a walk to open the bottom of the fourth and, with one out, moved to second on a passed ball by Bard. After advancing to third on a single by Ronnie Belliard, Martinez scored on another passed ball by Bard.
"Unfortunately for us tonight, it seemed like [the passed balls] kind of came at inopportune times," Francona said. "I thought the first couple innings [Bard] really handled him pretty well. And he ran into a bump in the road. It seems like that when that happens, he starts fighting himself a little bit."
The Indians put together another rally in the sixth, and Martinez again jump-started things with a leadoff single. He moved to second on a passed ball by Bard and scored on an RBI double by Aaron Boone to make it 5-1.
The standup Wakefield was practically seething at Bard being cast as a scapegoat for his 1-4 start.
"He's not the reason why we're losing or I'm losing, so get off of him right now," Wakefield said to the throng of reporters standing in front of his locker.
The next chance for the Wakefield-Bard combination will occur Monday night, when the Yankees come to town for a two-game series.
Perhaps that is when the Boston bats will take all the scrutiny off Wakefield and Bard.
"I'm not worried about it," said Wakefield. "This team is going to score runs. It's just a matter of time for them to put it together. There will probably be one start and they'll probably score me 15 or 20, so I'm not worried about it."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.