Super soaker: Wakefield stymies Jays
Knuckleballer pulls Sox within two games of Rays in AL East
BOSTON -- It was a Friday night that had a damp and dreary feeling to it, but the Red Sox had one distinct advantage over their opponents, the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Red Sox did not have to swing at bundles of filthy knuckleballs. That was left to the recently sizzling Jays, who were chilled right back to size by the dances and darts of Wakefield.
While pitching eight innings for the first time since May 28, Wakefield allowed just three hits and no runs, walking none and striking out four, and lifting Boston to a 7-0 victory over Toronto.
"It's hard to prepare for a knuckleball guy -- without a doubt," said Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen. "And he's one of the best there is. He threw the ball well. He was minimizing his pitches, obviously. He pitched very well."
After two gut-wrenching losses to the Tampa Bay Rays, Wakefield swiftly gave the Red Sox momentum again.
"He was very good. It was exactly what we needed," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
The 42-year-old Wakefield, coming off an abysmal start in Texas (1 2/3 innings, four hits, four walks, seven runs) rebounded to have one of his finest efforts of the season. Wakefield (9-10, 3.92 ERA) is tied with Jon Lester with a team-leading 18 quality starts.
"I felt great," Wakefield said. "Even in Texas, I felt great. I just couldn't find the strike zone. Too much movement and I wasn't able to rebound to get that last out in the second inning, so, obviously, getting through eight today was a huge swing from last time."
Wakefield (94 pitches) was certainly in position to hurl his first complete-game shutout since 1997, but Francona opted to take the conservative approach.
Did Wakefield want to go the distance?
"Yes and no," Wakefield said. "But due to the fact that I was on the DL about two weeks ago, I think they want to protect me for my next start. We're not getting an extra day this time, so it's going to be a normal four days' rest. It's always nice to go back out in the ninth and try it, but I think the smart thing was to stop it there and rebound quickly for my next start."
On a night the Rays were washed out at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox slimmed the American League East deficit to two games and increased their Wild Card lead to six games over the Twins (also rained out) and 7 1/2 over the Blue Jays, who likely needed to sweep this four-game series at Fenway Park to have a real chance of getting into the thick of playoff contention.
Offensively, Boston was led by Jed Lowrie, who broke out of his recent slump by going 2-for-2 with a pair of RBIs.
"It looks like he's been here four or five years, the way he's played," said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash. "The at-bats he has, how steady he is at shortstop since [Julio] Lugo went down -- it's nice to see a young guy come up here and have such a huge role."
Meanwhile, David Ortiz, who had started this homestand by going 1-for-13, helped seal the win with a two-run double into the corner in right in the bottom of the seventh.
"I know there have been some issues with his wrist that have happened this year, but he's not going to lose his confidence," Francona said. "He might get mad or frustrated sometimes, but he's always going to be a threat at the plate."
Cash tacked on three insurance runs in the eighth, blasting a three-run homer into the Monster Seats.
"It's always nice, especially because there was a chance [Jonathan Papelbon] was going to have to come into the game, and to save him and the rest of the bullpen for the next two days was big," said Cash.
The Red Sox got something started against Jays starter David Purcey in the first, when Jason Bay led off with a walk and Mike Lowell followed with a single to right. With one out, Lowrie lifted a sacrifice fly to center to Boston a 1-0 lead.
Wakefield held on to that slight edge, and the Red Sox added to it in the fourth when Lowrie roped an RBI double to left that just missed being a home run.
Boston was fortunate that inning, as Bay opened the inning by reaching on an error by Rolen.
While the offense played a complementary role in the win, Wakefield was the story.
"Either you get to him or you don't," said Jays manager Cito Gaston. "Tonight, he pitched a good ballgame. He kept us off the scoreboard. Guys hit some balls hard, but not a whole lot of them. He pitched a good game for them."
For Wakefield and the Red Sox, the timing of the performance -- particularly with a doubleheader looming Saturday -- was perfect.
"It's very important to try to win the first game of the series and keep the momentum in our clubhouse," said Wakefield. "We have a long day of baseball tomorrow. We're playing four games in less than 48 hours. [It was a] huge night for us tonight, to keep the momentum going, and hopefully we can do it again tomorrow."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.