Wakefield shuts down Tigers, Sox roll
Knuckleballer baffles Detroit lineup, gets a little help from Manny
DETROIT -- When a pitcher has all of his pitches working, he's tough to hit. When a pitcher like the Red Sox's Tim Wakefield has his pitches working, plus a knuckleball that's dancing around hitter's bats, he can be even tougher.
Just ask the Detroit Tigers.
Wakefield shackled one of baseball's toughest lineups in Boston's 5-0 win in front of 38,564 fans at Comerica Park. In guiding the Red Sox to their fifth straight victory, Wakefield tossed eight magnificent innings, allowing just two hits and striking out six to send the tumbling Tigers to their fifth straight loss.
With dominating starting pitching, it didn't take much offense to get the win. The Red Sox scored three runs in the second on hits by J.D. Drew and backup catcher Kevin Cash.
Then the big boys got involved. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez hit back-to-back home runs for the first time this season in the seventh inning for the final margin. For Ramirez, it was career home run No. 497. He needs three more to become the 24th member of the 500-home run club.
Wakefield threw 98 pitches, with 65 going for strikes. His knuckleball jigged past Detroit's sluggers. He had his best curveball of the season and consistently hit corners with his fastball.
A single by Carlos Guillen in the first inning represented the only Detroit baserunner in the first six innings.
"I felt really good, throwing strikes with all my pitches. We were able to mix them all in tonight," Wakefield said. "Definitely against a lineup like [Detroit's], I have to throw strikes with my knuckleball. It makes my other pitches better."
Even in the rare cases where he fell behind in the count, Cash pointed out, he had little trouble finding the strike zone again.
"He was throwing his knuckleball over a lot," Cash said, "but if he went 1-0, he was able to get right back in with a fastball or a curveball. He had all three pitches really going well tonight. When you have three pitches going, you're going to be pretty successful.
"If you look at the box score, [Detroit's] a pretty good offensive club. I think they take the approach that if they get one in the zone, they're going to swing, and that fits right into his game plan."
It was Cash that noticed a mechanical error in Wakefield's delivery during his last start against the Rays.
Wakefield has a tendency to step toward the left-handed batter's box when he delivers a pitch, which can affect his release point and, therefore, his control. Cash saw it happening regularly, so he pointed it and the two of them worked with pitching coach John Farrell to correct the problem.
Wakefield and Cash agreed after Tuesday's game that the mechanical problem didn't resurface, and both said it had a lot to do with his impressive control.
"When I don't do it, I feel a lot better," Wakefield said.
He felt good enough to only allow three baserunners in this eight-inning outing, the second time he has lasted that long this season.
After hitting a single in the first, Guillen reached on a fielding error by Dustin Pedroia in the seventh. Ivan Rodriguez doubled in the eighth of Wakefield, but was stranded at second.
"He threw the knuckleball," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Wakefield, "but he also threw some curveballs and fastballs. I think it's probably the most assortment I've seen him throw."
Said Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson: "You have to think knuckleball. That's his bread and butter. It wasn't that the fastball and curveball were overpowering. It's just something to throw in the back of your mind to get you off of the knuckleball."
Granderson watched in the seventh as Ramirez gave a rude welcome to Tigers reliever Freddy Dolsi, who was making his Major League debut. Ramirez blasted Dolsi's first career pitch, a fastball left up, over Granderson's head in center and into the bushes beyond the center-field fence to put the Red Sox up 5-0.
The only question left was whether Wakefield would go for the complete-game shutout. He left it up to manager Terry Francona, who promptly took him out.
"In my opinion, when a guy is throwing a shutout and his pitch count isn't out of control, he's earned that right [to finish]," Francona said, "but it's a long year. ... It's the right thing to do for the long haul."
Wakefield had no problem with that decision.
"Just as long as we get the win," Wakefield said.
If the Red Sox's starting rotation can continue to pitch how it has pitched lately, they will get a lot of them.
Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.