Wakefield silences Braves for 10th win
Knuckler ties Rocket for most starts in Red Sox history
ATLANTA -- The Red Sox have boasted pitchers like Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling throughout the years. However, nobody has started more games in the team's illustrious history than knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who tied Clemens for the franchise record (382) in Saturday's 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
When it comes to Wakefield, the success and the lasting power go hand in hand.
Even at 42 years old, Wakefield continues to be a major factor in the Red Sox's starting rotation. In his latest strong performance, Wakefield stymied the Braves en route to six scoreless innings. He allowed three hits and walked one, throwing 88 pitches.
"It's pretty cool," said Wakefield. "Just to be mentioned with the names that I'm mentioned with is pretty cool. It's a testament to not only longevity and perseverance, but also the organization for keeping me around and giving me a chance to still pitch in a Red Sox uniform."
Wakefield (10-3) is tied with Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay and Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey for the American League lead in wins.
"He continues to pitch his rear end off," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That was a tough day for everybody. I know it's hot. It's great baseball weather. But he just keeps going out there and doing what he's supposed to do. It's fun to watch. I'm proud of him."
Though Wakefield's 4.18 ERA isn't spectacular, he is, at the very least, a candidate to make the AL All-Star team for the first time. Wakefield's 10 quality starts are second in Boston's rotation to ace Josh Beckett (11).
"It feels really good to have 10 wins before the All-Star break," Wakefield said. "The most important thing is us winning games. [Javier] Vazquez was pitching well and you're facing a tough lineup over there. I was able to keep them at bay for six innings."
It was the continuation of a surge by the 46-28 Red Sox, who clinched their sixth straight series victory and fourth in a row on the road. Since May 31, Boston owns a record of 18-6 -- the best in the Majors.
The Red Sox were fortunate that Wakefield had such good stuff in this one, as they were hard-pressed to come up with much of anything against Vazquez, who held the Sox to six hits while striking out eight and allowing just the one run over 7 2/3 innings.
Mark Kotsay, making the start in left on a day when Jason Bay got a rare breather, snapped a scoreless tie in the sixth with a two-out opposite-field single to left that scored Kevin Youkilis from second.
"Kots played a professional game," said Francona. "I don't know why he does, but he seems to go under the radar sometimes. But not from us. We've got a guy that can play center field, right field, left field, and we can move him in to play first base for defense -- that's a valuable guy. And he gets the game-winning hit. The way Vazquez was throwing -- some of his stuff was filthy. Some of that offspeed stuff was unhittable."
Youkilis started the rally with a two-out walk. Another key was a patient at-bat by David Ortiz. Behind in the count, 0-2, Ortiz resisted some borderline pitches from Vazquez to draw a walk. That set things up for Kotsay, who delivered.
"He kept me off balance my first two at-bats," said Kotsay. "The changeup seemed to be the best pitch that he was throwing against me. I think he had that in his mind that I was probably sitting changeup, and he threw a good fastball the pitch before and then a backdoor slider that I ended up driving into left field. Fortunately, I won the battle. He could have very easily won the battle, and it could have been a different outcome."
The bullpen took it home after Wakefield's exit, making Kotsay's hit stand up.
Manny Delcarmen and Justin Masterson set up Jonathan Papelbon for career save No. 131, leaving him just one behind Bob Stanley for the team record.
Papelbon had to go through the heart of Atlanta's order to earn save No. 18 in his 19th chance. After getting Chipper Jones (popup) and Brian McCann (flyout to deep right-center), Papelbon surrendered a double to Garret Anderson. But he got Casey Kotchman on a grounder to second to end it and put Wakefield in the win column again.
"It's pretty cool to win a 1-0 game," said Wakefield. "I've been on the opposite end of those quite a bit. Nice to be on the right side."
Wakefield even got a hit for his efforts, a solid single up the middle in the third. It was Wakefield's 13th career hit and his first since 2005.
But Wakefield's mound work has allowed him to create a legacy for one of baseball's most storied franchises.
"Obviously, the older you get in this game, the more you accomplish," said Kotsay. "Tim has done a great job for us this season. He's 10-3, and he's going to be 43 in a month or something, so you can't say enough about his preparation and his work ethic and the job he's done for us."
Meanwhile, the Braves, on the wrong end of Wakefield's 188th career victory, sounded like a lot of his victims over the years.
"It's always a little bit of a downer when you go out and get three hits off of a guy throwing 65 mph," said Jones. "It was dancing around pretty good. Not too many guys got good swings off of him."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.