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10/06/05 4:31 PM ET

Wakefield 'rarin' to go'

Knuckleballer ready to handle pressure of Game 3 start

BOSTON -- Unlike his dancing knuckleball, Tim Wakefield throws his words right over the heart of the plate.

The man is realistic. The Red Sox are down 2-0 and this is a best-of-five series. This is simple math with an inescapable conclusion.

"There's always pressure when you come into the postseason. Coming into Game 3, down two-nothing and there's a little more pressure there," Wakefield said.

Is there ever, and Wakefield, as the Red Sox starter in Friday's 4:19 p.m. ET third game, is under the gun.

The Red Sox have been in tough spots before and survived, most notably last year in their historic comeback against the New York Yankees.

"It might be that when your back's against the wall, you come out fighting," Wakefield said.

He should know. He's the longest-tenured Red Sox player, having been around since 1995.

"This team's been in this situation before, not only last year but in 2003 against Oakland," he said.

That year, the Red Sox also fell behind 2-0 and won both games in Boston and the fifth in Oakland.

"We still have a majority of those guys left in the clubhouse since 2003," Wakefield said. "We're playing at home, where we've played the best all year [54-27]. I think everybody is rarin' to go [Friday]."

This season, Wakefield led the Red Sox in wins (16), starts (33), strikeouts (151) and had the lowest opponents' average among the starters (.245).

The White Sox were 1-1 against him, scoring nine earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. He's just 5-10 against them in his career.

White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker has to prepare his hitters for the seldom-seen knuckler.

"There's an old saying: Let it go high, let it fly," Walker said.

"When it's going down, it's usually going out of the strike zone. The big key is not to try to do too much with it."

A couple of things are for sure. The flutterball requires a catcher used to hanging onto the darn things, in this case Doug Mirabelli.

With Mirabelli catching him this season, Wakefield had a 16-8 record and a 3.66 ERA. When a sprained left wrist kept Mirabelli out for four starts, Wakefield was 0-4 with an 8.86 ERA.

Another thing is that between the dancing deliveries and the hitters' patience, he'll be throwing a considerable number of pitches. This year his total was 3,394 in 33 starts, an average of 15.1 per inning.

"He's been such a horse for us," manager Terry Francona said. "He's been consistent. At times, you can almost use the word 'dominant.' He doesn't throw the ball 95 miles an hour, but at times he's been dominant."

More than ever on Friday, the Red Sox need that kind of performance.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.