I was at the Scoop Thirst Parlor in my home town of Butte, Montana, on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. It was back before I could read the Globe on the internet. It was before I could watch every game on DirecTV.
About the only Red Sox news I got back then was on SportsCenter, and I could only catch a handful of games on TV each season. Often I would spend hours watching ESPN or CNN Headline News so I could follow that night’s game on the score ticker on the bottom of the screen.
So, after playing our first round of the Memorial Day Golf Tournament, a group of friends and I found our way to the Scoop, and I trained my eyes to one of the TVs for the SportsCenter highlights to see if the Red Sox beat the Angeles in Anaheim.
As we BS’d at the bar, for some reason, out of nowhere, my thoughts turned to that great knuckleball pitcher who nearly took the Pirates to the World Series a few years earlier.
Wakefield briefly stole the show in the Pirates’ seven-game loss to the Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series. He was so good in a Game 6 win that some educated baseball guys wondered if the Pirates should start him again in Game 7 instead of Doug Drabek.
The Pirates stuck with Drabek and lost. Wakefield went 6-11 with a .5.61 record in 1993, and he didn’t pitch for the Pirates again.
Seeing the ball dance when Wakefield pitched in the 1992 NLCS was unlike anything I had ever seen. He was fun to watch, so I wondered where he was.
“Whatever happened to Tim Wakefield?” I asked my buddy Liam. “It seems like that guy just fell off the face of the earth.”
That’s when Liam delivered the great news. “I think the Red Sox signed him,” he said. “Yeah, the Red Sox signed him. I think he is in Pawtucket.”
“Get out of here,” I said. “No way.”
A few minutes later, the Red Sox-Angels highlights came on the TV. Those highlights showed Wakefield pitching with a B on his cap for the first time. His knuckleball was dancing around, over and under those California bats, making the Angels look silly.
I was beside myself with excitement. I couldn’t wait to watch the Headline News ticker for Wakefield’s next start.
The Red Sox won Wakefield’s first start 12-1, and Wakefield opened his Red Sox career on a 14-1 run. The Red Sox won the AL East.
Nine and a half years later, the acquisition of Wakefield made its biggest payout when the selflessness of the pitcher directly led to a World Series title.
Sure, we know about Papi’s game-winning hits in that come back against the Yankees. We know about Millar’s walk and Roberts’ steal. We know about that bloody sock.
The greatest comeback in baseball history, though, never would have happened if it wasn’t for the contribution of Wakefield in Game 4 of the ALCS. It was a contribution most starting pitchers never would have dreamed about.
As the Yankees were pulling away in their Game 3 slaughter of the Red Sox, Wakefield wasn’t thinking about his Game 4 start. He was thinking of a way to help his team right now.
So Wake, who always had his spikes on, volunteered forgo his scheduled start and go to the bullpen.
Wakefield gave up five runs in relief in that 19-8 loss. What he did, though, is eat up three and a third innings and helped save the bullpen, which came in handy since the Red Sox won in 12 innings in Game 4 and 14 innings in Game 5.
A big reason they won those games was their bullpen got that little break from Wakefield, who got the win with three shutout innings of relief in Game 5.
Three years later, Wakefield’s selflessness came through for the team again when he took himself off the World Series roster because he knew he wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
Who can forget Mike Timlin bragging up Wake as the ultimate teammate on NESN as the team celebrated in Coors Field? Wake’s eyes welled up with perhaps the truest words ever spoken on NESN.
“It’s the hardest thing to do to take yourself out of the game for someone else,” Timlin said. “But he did it, and I’m proud of him.”
Wakefield never won the Cy Young Award, and he will never be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his 17 years in Boston, though, he won 186 games and a pair of World Series rings.
After Saturday’s 8-3 win over the Angels, the Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote that he saw shades of Wakefield in Steven Wright, a knuckleball pitcher who has been tutored by none other than Tim Wakefield.
After a rough start, Wright was brilliant for the Red Sox. His knuckler was dancing around, over and under those Anaheim bats, making the Angles look silly.
It was his first win as a starter for the Red Sox, so it is probably, as Cafardo admitted, a little early make comparisons.
Of course, any time a pitcher reminds of us of the great Tim Wakefield, even for a moment, it has to be a very good thing for the Red Sox. Bill Foley 5/24/2015 10:17:00 PM Tweet