Wakefield, Sox claim rubber game
Knuckleballer notches 16th quality start; Ellsbury heating up
KANSAS CITY -- The unlucky seven was halted in its tracks Wednesday night, and that was a highly fortunate development for Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
Seven times this season, Wakefield had left with the lead, only to come out of it with either a loss or a no-decision. This time, the offense spread out the lead beyond a shadow of a doubt and the bullpen took it home, giving Wakefield and the Red Sox an 8-2 victory over the Royals in the rubber match of a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
Despite being one of the most consistent pitchers in the American League this season, Wakefield's record is an unspectacular 7-8. His 3.67 ERA is a far better indicator of the way he has pitched, not to mention his staff-leading 16 quality starts.
"It was one of my goals going into the season -- to give the team quality starts and to give the team innings and keep us in the game as long as possible," said Wakefield. "I've been able to accomplish that this year."
It's just that the wins have been so tough to come by for a man who, despite turning 42 last week, continues to turn in one solid performance after another.
Perhaps it's Wakefield's experience that allows him to shrug off all the bad luck this year.
"I can only control so much," Wakefield said. "It's one of those things, that's why they call it baseball. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. I was very fortunate to get the run support I did tonight."
After being shut down over the first four innings by Royals starter Luke Hochevar, the Red Sox exploded for three in the fifth, two in the sixth and another three-spot in the seventh.
With a nice cushion, Wakefield exited after six innings and just 80 pitches. He allowed four hits and two runs, one of which was earned. Wakefield walked none and struck out six.
"He's pitched so well. He really has pitched well," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Yeah, sure, your human emotions [are to be happy for him]. The guy has been giving everything he has. I think everybody felt that way in the dugout."
The other story was the offense. Jacoby Ellsbury, perhaps working his way back toward the leadoff spot, had his second productive night in a row. The rookie center fielder, batting seventh in this one, produced three hits, including a three-run homer that broke the game open in the top of the seventh. The blast to center came off Ron Mahay, marking the first of Ellsbury's nine career homers to come off a left-hander.
"I was thinking I maybe had one, but I knew I didn't have too many," Ellsbury said. "It was petty neat, especially going to dead center."
The key to his resurgence? Nothing more than an improvement of timing.
"Be early to the ball and get a pitch I can drive," Ellsbury said. "It sounds pretty simple, but that's all it's been."
Much like Ellsbury, the Red Sox have made quite the turnaround. For what it's worth, Boston is now 5-1 since trading Manny Ramirez for Jason Bay. Before the deal, the Red Sox had lost five out of six.
"Everybody is doing a great job," Wakefield said. "I can't complain about anything on this team. Jason Bay has obviously done a great job filling Manny's shoes. It's great. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going."
Heading into Thursday's off-day, the Red Sox remained three games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.
But an off-day is always more enjoyable coming off a win.
The fifth-inning rally started with two outs and nobody on. No. 9 hitter Alex Cora, starting at second so that Dustin Pedroia could get a breather, sparked it with a single to right. J.D. Drew walked. And Jed Lowrie drilled a two-run double to center to break the scoreless tie.
"Jed's given us a bunch of key hits," said Francona.
David Ortiz followed with an RBI single through the middle to give Wakefield a 3-0 lead.
But the Royals bounced right back in their half of the fifth. Ross Gload ripped a two-run single past third baseman Mike Lowell to make it a one-run game. The inning could have been worse for the Red Sox if not for a tremendous play by Ellsbury, who raced into shallow center to make a tumbling catch of Mitch Maier's fly ball.
"I got a great read on the ball," said Ellsbury. "It's a big, big outfield, being 410 to center. I was running in, wasn't sure I could get to it, then I saw Lowrie coming pretty hard, and I dove for the ball and tucked up, thinking we might collide. Luckily, we didn't. I was happy I could make the catch."
The Red Sox grabbed the momentum right back in the top of the sixth. Bay -- who has hit safely in all six games since joining the Red Sox -- started it with a one-out single to left. Ellsbury followed with a single to left of his own. After Kevin Cash struck out, Cora walked to load the bases. Drew did not let the opportunity go to waste, lacing a two-run single to center to give the Red Sox a 5-2 lead.
From there, it was all Boston, putting Wakefield in the winner's circle for the first time since July 12.
"I felt great from the time I warmed up today," said Wakefield. "I had good movement and good command. It's just a matter of continuing to do what I've been doing, working hard and the results will eventually show up."
It is much easier to believe that when the results actually do show up -- as was the case on Wednesday.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.