Wakefield keeps Red Sox rolling
Knuckleballer ties Beckett for league lead in wins with 16
CHICAGO -- The decision man, as Tim Wakefield could aptly be called these days, was nearly unhittable Saturday afternoon. Amid a clear blue sky, Wakefield had all the stress of a kid pitching a game of backyard barbeque Wiffle ball, almost effortlessly pitching the Red Sox to a 14-2 victory over Mark Buehrle and the White Sox.
Each knuckleball would float in there and the White Sox would loft lazy outs or strike out. For a while, Buehrle was just as smooth, but the Red Sox finally got to him for a four-run sixth inning that broke a scoreless tie.
Wakefield, who moved into a tie with teammate Josh Beckett for the Major League lead in wins, is now 16-10 and has a decision in all 26 of his starts. The last pitcher to make that many starts without a no-decision was Jack McDowell, who went 20-7 in his first 27 starts for the White Sox in 1993.
"As long as we keep winning, I don't care," Wakefield said when asked about his win total. "I don't care about my numbers. As long as we get to the postseason and we're able to compete, that's all that matters to me."
The Red Sox, now a season-high 28 games above .500 (79-51), will go for a four-game sweep against the White Sox on Sunday when Julian Tavarez faces Javier Vazquez.
Pending the outcome of the Yankees-Tigers game in Detroit on Saturday night, Boston holds a seven-game lead in the American League East.
"This is the time of year to get on that run," Wakefield said. "You can't coast through the season anymore. You have to leave the switch on right now. The way the Yankees are playing, they're playing really well and we have a big series with them coming up on Tuesday. We have to leave the switch on and keep going."
In this one, Wakefield was masterful, allowing three hits and no runs over seven innings, while walking three and striking out six. In Wakefield's last three starts -- all wins -- he hasn't allowed a run.
"He can get hot now," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I know he feels good about himself. Physically, at a time of year where guys are sore, I think he's taking good care of himself. I think physically he feels real good. I think he's very confident. He should be."
With perhaps as many as six starts remaining, the 41-year-old Wakefield has a shot at his first 20-win season. A more reachable goal is his career high of wins in a season, which currently is 17 from 1998.
The Red Sox and Wakefield have a mutual option of $4 million per season that can be exercised for as many years as both sides want. At this rate, there is no end in sight.
"Just pitch until I can't pitch anymore," said Wakefield of his future plans.
The revived Boston bats have scored double-digit runs in the first three games of the series. The last time the Red Sox scored double digits three games in a row was July 3-5, 1998, at the Metrodome against the Twins.
Saturday's game was played at a breakneck speed through the first five innings, which wasn't surprising when you consider that Buehrle and Wakefield are two of the swiftest workers in the league.
But the Red Sox finally slowed Buehrle down a bit in the sixth. A David Ortiz double placed runners at second and third with one out, prompting an intentional walk of Manny Ramirez. However, that strategy didn't pay dividends for White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.
Mike Lowell stung an RBI single to left to break the scoreless tie. Kevin Youkilis followed with an RBI hit of his own. Then Bobby Kielty (3-for-5, four RBIs) slammed a single through the hole and into left to bring two more runs home.
It was a given that Ramirez would score from third, but count left fielder Andy Gonzalez among those stunned that Lowell ran right past third-base coach DeMarlo Hale's stop sign and scored from second. Gonzalez double-clutched before throwing the ball tentatively to the middle of the infield, allowing Lowell to score easily.
"He kept his head up," Francona said. "DeMarlo has to stop him. Every hit was almost identical. A ball through the hole and we were going one base at a time, because we had to. Once DeMarlo stops the runner, good baserunners pick up the ball instinctually, and he did. It's a great play. It's something you talk about a lot in Spring Training. Good baserunners always know where the ball is."
Wakefield tried to forget about the sudden comfort zone his hitters created for him.
"I just tried to keep telling myself it's 1-0, because it's not a team to go to sleep on," Wakefield said. "At the time, I had the heart of the lineup coming up, too. [I wanted to] just try to get them back in the dugout as soon as possible."
Once the bats got going, they never stopped. Boston scored one in the seventh, eight in the eighth and one in the ninth.
"We've been hitting the ball well the last few games and people have been feeling confident," Kielty said. "When you're hitting the ball well for a certain period of time, it gets contagious. Other guys start hitting. And you have a few games in a row where everyone is feeling good at the plate and good things happen when you feel good at the plate."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.