Wakefield flirts with history vs. A's
Knuckleballer comes within five outs of first career no-no
OAKLAND -- The day started with the Red Sox craving nothing more than quantity and quality from veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Coming off a 12-inning loss Tuesday night that taxed the bullpen, Boston was 2-6, marking its worst start 1996.
But as Wednesday afternoon unfolded, it was nearly a magical day for the 42-year-old Wakefield, who came within five outs from spinning a no-hitter in his 402nd Major League start. Still, Wakefield did what he set out to do, pitching the Red Sox to a badly-needed 8-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Kurt Suzuki smashed a clean single to left with one out in the eighth, ending Wakefield's pursuit of giving the Red Sox no-hitters in three successive seasons. Clay Buchholz accomplished the feat against the Orioles on Sept. 1, 2007. Jon Lester followed suit on May 19 of last season against the Royals.
While those were two examples of young guns making good on their promise, this would have been the case of a trusted veteran reaching a personal pinnacle on a day his team desperately needed it. Boston's bullpen had worked 10 2/3 innings in Tuesday's loss.
"I'm not disappointed," said Wakefield. "It's something that's great to try to get, but the biggest thing today was to try to preserve the bullpen going into the off-day tomorrow, and hopefully we can get a streak going."
Wakefield didn't merely preserve his bullpen. He gave them an entire day off. By going the distance, Wakefield became the oldest pitcher in Red Sox history to pitch a complete game. He gave up four hits and two runs, walking two, striking out four and throwing 111 pitches.
The near miss brought back memories of Curt Schilling having his no-hit bid snapped with two outs in the ninth inning at Oakland on June 7, 2007. In that case, Schilling had snapped a four-game losing streak for his team.
"I thought about that a little bit," said Wakefield. "Again, it would have been nice to have the no-no. I've taken two or three into the eighth or ninth inning. You've got to be more lucky than good sometimes in that aspect. It didn't happen, but I'm pleased that I was able to save the bullpen today."
Back on June 19, 2001, Wakefield had a no-hitter against the Rays broken up with one out it in the ninth.
But none of that mattered to Wakefield, who was determined to help end a stretch during which the Red Sox lost six out of seven.
"We needed exactly what he gave us," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That's some kind of attacking the strike zone and getting results to boot. I'm stating the obvious when I say we desperately needed that outing from him, and it was welcome. He did a great job."
Wakefield has been with the Red Sox since 1995, longer than any other member of the team. It was win No. 179 of Wakefield's career -- 165 have come with the Sox.
Before the game even started, Wakefield walked into Francona's office and told the manager that he knew full well how much the team was depending on him, considering the circumstances. With Daisuke Mastuzaka pitching just one inning on Tuesday, the Red Sox needed 10 2/3 innings out of their bullpen during that defeat.
"I did stop in his office," said Wakefield. "I said, 'I understand the circumstances today and I just want you to know that whatever happens, don't take me out. Just let me keep going.'"
The way Wakefield was clicking, Francona had no reason to even contemplate picking up his phone.
An error by Mike Lowell on Suzuki's routine grounder to start the sixth inning ended Wakefield's bid at pitching the 18th perfect game in Major League history, and first since Randy Johnson in 2004.
"It all worked out in the end," said Lowell. "Aside from that, I think Wake's start was huge for us -- especially with the fact our bullpen had to throw so many innings yesterday. Complete games aren't something we see so much in today's game anyway, but especially given the circumstances -- Dice only throwing one inning yesterday -- it magnified how important it was for us as a team."
Lowell gave Wakefield all the offensive support he needed, launching a two-run homer to left with two outs in the second. J.D. Drew added insurance in the eighth, belting a three-run homer to right.
Retiring the first 15 batters, Wakefield needed just 39 pitches. After six innings, the righty had thrown 54 pitches, 42 for strikes.
The Red Sox made some dazzling defensive plays to keep Wakefield's bid alive.
After Drew flagged down an Orlando Cabrera fly ball in the gap in right-center to open the seventh, shortstop Nick Green made a twisting grab on the outfield grass of a line drive by Jack Cust. Jacoby Ellsbury raced to the wall in left-center to snag a Travis Buck flyout in the eighth.
Ellsbury ended the third inning by flagging down a deep drive just in front of the wall in right-center against Landon Powell.
"After last night's game, I knew coming into today that I needed to go deep," Wakefield said. "I got some great help from my defense today -- Nick Green at short, Jacoby in center, [Kevin] Youkilis picking some balls at first."
Perhaps Wakefield's gem was just what the Red Sox needed as they head back to Fenway Park for a nine-game homestand.
"We're a little banged up," said Francona. "It hasn't been the funnest trip we've ever been on. Going home with a win is better than going home with a loss. We can kind of regroup a little bit and get our house in order and see if we can't play a little better baseball."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.