04/18/07 11:27 PM ET
Wakefield, power overwhelm Jays
Knuckler's flutterer flummoxes Toronto; Sox hit three homers
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
For the third time in as many tries this season, the venerable knuckleballer did just that in leading the Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Jays on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.
Aside from one nearly costly snafu in the fourth inning, when Wakefield walked the bases loaded, he seemed to be in cruise control for the entire night.
"[Pitching coach] John Farrell came out and pointed out some mechanical flaws that I might have been doing and I was able to get ahead to [Jason] Phillips there and get a strikeout to get out of the bases-loaded jam," said Wakefield.
After the mechanical flaws were fixed, Wakefield was near flawless the rest of the night.
Wakefield, 40, seems to be aging as well as some of the knuckleballers who preceded him. The righty, in the midst of season No. 13 with the Red Sox, is now 2-1 with an ERA of 1.35. He held the Blue Jays to four hits and one run over seven innings while striking out four.
"Not in our eyes," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I understand your point. I think we make a point of reminding Wake of how much we appreciate him just because with his style, I think, he can go under the radar. From my standpoint, he can go under the radar all the way to a bunch of wins."
The strong performance of Wakefield was backed by an aerial display by the offense. Solo shots by Mike Lowell, Doug Mirabelli and David Ortiz were more than enough on a night Wakefield's knuckleball was at its fluttering best.
Nobody loves to pitch more with a roof over his head than Wakefield, who improved to 17-8 with a 3.76 ERA when pitching indoors.
"This mound is probably the best mound in the American League," said Wakefield. "Pitching inside is always a big plus for me. Just the atmosphere that the dome creates, I think the ball moves a little more inside vs. outside when you have a lot of weather conditions that can probably hinder something. I'm just thankful it was cold and the roof was closed."
Rest assured the Blue Jays will be rooting for clear skies and warmth the next time Wakefield comes to town.
"You get much more action on a knuckleball in a dome," said Blue Jays DH Frank Thomas. "He threw a couple there and I was like, 'Wow.' I was amazed. With the movement on that ball, there were times Mirabelli couldn't even catch it."
Once Wakefield exited, Brendan Donnelly took care of the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon entered in the ninth for save No. 3.
"[Wakefield] was so dominating tonight," said Jays manager John Gibbons. "Then, you bring in a guy like Papelbon after that, and it looks like he's throwing 120."
After generating no hits through the first four innings against Blue Jays starter Tomo Ohka, the Red Sox got one that counted with two outs in the fifth. That was when Lowell clubbed his first home run of the season, a liner over the wall in left that broke a scoreless tie.
Boston's second hit of the night was eerily similar to the first. This time it was Mirabelli roping one over the wall in left to make it 2-0. For Mirabelli, it was his second homer in as many starts.
"You get some offensive impact from somebody that's catching every five or six days, that keeps us away from pinch-hitting," Francona said. "It gives Varitek [a breather]. Besides the fact that it helps us win the game -- it's huge."
It also continued a theme of production from Mirabelli at Rogers Centre, where he now has five homers and 13 RBIs in 64 at-bats.
"Maybe I like playing here because I hit well here," Mirabelli said. "But I've always liked coming to this stadium. It feels good to me. It plays fair. When you hit the ball good, it goes. It's a fun place for me to play. I can't really put a finger on why I've been successful, but I just have."
Then there is Ortiz, who is successful everywhere. After being victimized by a shift in the fourth inning -- Jays second baseman Aaron Hill literally threw him out from right field -- Ortiz unloaded for a ball nobody was going to catch.
The lefty masher went to the opposite field and lost one over the wall in left. J.D. Drew slapped a one-out single -- the first Boston hit of the night that didn't go over the wall -- and Ohka was replaced by Victor Zambrano. Lowell greeted Zambrano with a single and, with two outs, Mirabelli delivered an RBI single to right to increase the Boston lead to 4-0.
"Once we had four runs on the board, it makes my job a little easier and I can pitch a little better knowing I can make a mistake and have it not hurt me," Wakefield said.
Ortiz would much rather try to bust the exaggerated shifts he faces than try to hit Wakefield's knuckleball.
"That thing was moving all over the place," said Ortiz. "I was watching him pitch a couple of times on TV right here [in the clubhouse], that ball was moving pretty [darned] good."
Up next for Wakefield is a rematch with the Blue Jays at Fenway on Monday night. The Red Sox hope for a carbon copy of his first three starts.
"Again, his knuckleball was unbelievable tonight," said Mirabelli. "It's been like that every start he's had. That's really all I can say about him. When he throws his knuckleball like that, it's hard to hit. You've got Major League hitters out there swinging and missing and popping up balls, it just shows you how much that ball is moving."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.