Bay, Wake hand Red Sox 11th straight
Knuckleballer one-hits Tribe, three-run homer in ninth seals it
CLEVELAND -- Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield can't pitch much better. No way. Impossible. Well, maybe he could pitch a no-hitter or a perfect game.That's about the next thing left for Wakefield, who has had his knuckler dancing as though it were auditioning for a spot on "Dancing with the Stars" in his past three outings. "I've seen him in some unbelievable runs," manager Terry Francona said. "He's been a good pitcher for a long time." But has he been any better than this? Not that the Red Sox did anything to reward Wakefield for his masterful work. They waited until after he'd finished his one-hit, seven-inning outing to push across the runs they'd need to beat the Indians, 3-1, and extend their winning streak to 11 games on Monday night. The Red Sox would have had little chance of keeping their streak alive if not for Wakefield. He had to be at his best, and he was at his best in his duel with left-hander Cliff Lee, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. "I knew going into the game it might be a tight one," Wakefield said. "I tried to match him pitch for pitch." Wakefield and Lee peppered the scoreboard with zeroes. The one or two scoring chances they allowed led to nothing. In Wakefield's case, it was walks, passed balls and wild pitches that caused him any nervous moments. Even in those rare moments, the rare chances Wakefield gave the Tribe to score, he wiggled out of any trouble. The Indians could do little with his dipping and darting knuckler. "I feel phenomenal," Wakefield said. "I'm throwing a lot of strikes." After a 112-pitch night, he put a scoreless game in the hands of the Red Sox's bullpen, and it proved as consistent as Wakefield. Still, the Red Sox needed to score a run -- to put something on the scoreboard to keep from seeing Wakefield's performance wasted. They needed somebody -- anybody, really -- to provide the offense to go along with the splendid pitching they'd received. Jason Bay would be that somebody. With Lee done after the eighth inning, Cleveland went to its bullpen, which is no match for the Boston 'pen. Closer Kerry Wood came on in the top of the ninth and did the one thing a pitcher in a scoreless game doesn't need to do: He issued a leadoff walk. After walking Dustin Pedroia, Wood gave up a single to David Ortiz. The Red Sox had their first legit threat of the ballgame, and they weren't about to let it lead to nothing. Wood got Kevin Youkilis to fly out, but Wood had no such luck with Bay.
"I think he kind of leaked a fastball back to the middle of the plate," Bay said. "That's probably a pitch he'd want back."What pitcher wouldn't? A do-over would have spared Wood and the Indians the frustration of watching the ball sail 408 feet and into the bleachers in left-center field for a homer that put the Red Sox ahead, 3-0. "Ultimately," Bay said, "it was a pivotal point in the game." But the homer wasn't any bigger in the totality of the ballgame than what Wakefield had done. Had Wakefield been off his game just a bit, the Red Sox would have had an impossible task.
Wakefield's knuckler, which he complemented with a fastball and a curveball to keep the Indians off balance, proved the decider."When he has that aggressive movement in the zone," Francona said, "that's when he's so tough."
Justice B. Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.