February 17, 2012

All hail the ultimate junkball pitcher

How can you say that a pitcher helped save a series when they pitched three and a half innings in a blowout loss? Well that would basically sum up Tim Wakefield in a nutshell. Wakefield announced his retirement from baseball, and at age 45 its probably a good time to hang up the cleats but nobody is going to forget about him anytime soon.

He might be the slowest pitcher in the league, he might make Jamie Moyer seem like he's throwing heat. He's payoff pitch is that quirky knuckleball. You know the one pitch your coach told you to stop throwing in Little League? Wakefield may give up home runs. He may not have days where the knuckle ball is working. He may be the only reason the Red Sox keep catcher Jason Varitek and mannequin at the plate in the lineup. But above all, Wakefield is one of those rare guys that may not look like a monster on paper but you want him on your team.

During the 2004 ALCS, Wakefield gave up his start in Game 4 to save a battered Red Sox bullpen when things look liked trouble. With everyone jumping up and down at the thought of another Boston collapse and the curse of the Babe rearing it's ugly head for another year, Wakefield did what was best for the team.

I'm not saying that he knew they were going to win the next four games BUT his mindset was more along the lines of "I'm going to give this the best chance I can to win the next four games." As a team, that's the mental state you need to be in to pull off something as historic as the 2004 ALCS. Wakefield and the team were stupid to think they could sweep the Yankees in the next four games but the funny thing is, that stupidity paid off.

New York would win Game 3 19-8 to go up 3-0 in the series, but Wakefield's act helped keep arms fresh. The more arms you can throw out there on the mound, the better chance you have at winning in a series setting. Boston won Game 4, Wakefield ended up being the winning pitcher in Game 5 and you know how the rest of the series went down. Legen...dary.

(Keep in mind that Wakefield was also the pitcher that gave up the Aaron Boone home run in the 2003 ALCS. Funny how baseball is poetic like that)

Here's the stat line from Boston.com...

Wakefield, 45, was 200-180 with a 4.41 ERA in 627 appearances in his 19-year career. The Florida native spent the final 17 seasons with the Red Sox, going 186-168 with a 4.43 ERA over 590 games. He is third in team history for victories, trailing only Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who each had 192.

Wakefield's 17 seasons with the Sox were the most for an active player. In team history, only Carl Yastrzemski (23), Ted Williams (19) and Dwight Evans (19) played more years with the team.

Wakefield leaves the Red Sox having pitched the most innings (3,006) and made the most starts (430) in team history. He was second in games pitched (590) and strikeouts (2,046).

He also allowed the most home runs (401), walks (1,095), hits (2,931), wild pitches (125), and hit batters (176) in team history and had the most losses.

Wakefield, the oldest player in baseball last season, was 7-8 with a 5.12 ERA in 33 games 23 of them starts. He pitched 154.2 innings.

The great thing about Boston is they definitely have players that become "our guys." (Carl Crawford, you're definitely not there yet) Favorites that play in Fenway and maybe they don't compile the greatest stats known to man, but the memories they make always stick with fans. Wakefield was one of "our guys."

Thanks Tim! After beer and KFC chicken-gate, it's good to remember there are still guys like you.

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