i wear my navy blue tim wakefield replica game jersey around town a lot. most take it to simply be an expression of olde towne team allegiance based on the bright red city name on the front, but more than a few point their attention to the bright red name and #49 on the back. those folks generally make their comments to the effect that it's an awfully odd choice in player homages given his statistical mediocrity over his last couple of seasons, and all the other red sox luminaries from which there are to choose.
this inevitably leads to me citing all the trivial stuff like "third most wins in red sox history" and etc., but, no, it's really not at all about that.
wake da man.
through 19 major league baseball seasons--17 of them with the boston red sox--tim wakefield defined professionalism in a way that few other baseball players in history have ever been able. his peers are not steroid-addled assholes like roger clemens, whom he trails by a paltry 6 wins for the second-best win mark in red sox team history, (#1 will always be cy young, and i don't care what anybody else says about it), but workhorse players like cal ripken, who, as we all remember, set a consecutive game streak that may never be equaled.
tim wakefield took the ball whenever and wherever his manager gave it to him. he started. he came in in relief. he ASKED FOR the ball in a blowout playoff loss to the new york yankees in 2004 when no one else in the clubhouse would touch it with a 45-foot pesky pole and the series, the season, and the team were all but done, and somebody, SOMEBODY, had to be the first to step up and play like a professional, let alone a champion. yeah, yeah, papi came through in games 4 and 5 and 6, and schilling put on that sock a couple days later and made some history, but think about it--it's game 3. you're going down 3 games to zero and there's no miracle about that. the yankees have 10 runs before there's even two outs in the 4th inning, and somebody's got to come in and take the collar for two more outs in the 4th, and the entire rest of innings 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
"give me the ball, skip--i'll do it".
of those 17 outs, tim wakefield, first into the valley, riding against certain defeat, got the lion's share (10) of them. somebody had to step up. somebody had to do it.
remember game 5? it's still yankees leading the series 3 games to 2, and it's the end of the 11th inning and the game is tied 4-4. the red sox bullpen is EMPTY. timlin and foulke were used up in the 8th and 9th (pitching on consecutive days, too). otherwise starter bronson arroyo came in on a day's rest for the 10th, (though, to be fair, he only lasted 2 innings during his start two days before, so it's not like he wasn't reasonably fresh), and it took both myers and embree (also pitching on consecutive days) to escape the 11th. game 4 winner, curtis leskanic and his 10.13 series ERA had gone the day before, and he was NOBODY's idea of an option. remember those three and a third that wakefield ate two days before so that all those arms would have even a prayer of limping through these past twenty-three innings of games 4 and 5? the innings he put in in excess of any other pitcher not named martinez or lowe (i wonder where i've heard that name before... oh, yeah, could it be he was last night's winning pitcher to add to the irony?) on the entire team over those tumultuous three days?
"give me the ball, skip. i'll do it."
tony clark? whiff.
miguel cairo? single to left.
derek jeter? fly out.
alex rodriguez? fly out.
that was the 12th. on to the 13th.
tony sheffield? whiff.
but tek passes the ball and now he's on first. none out.
hideki matsui? ground out, erasing sheff at second. man on first, one out.
bernie williams? fly out.
tek drops another one, and matsui is now on second with two outs.
jorge posada is then intentionally walked. first and second, two outs, and...
tek drops ANOTHER one. now matsui is on third, the proverbial 90 feet away, and posada is on second, and it's sierra at the plate.
think about it. THREE PASSED BALLS in one inning. there's already been three outs, and a pitcher on a day's rest is following up three and a third with another three, and there are runners on second and third in a tied extra-inning game, with the entire series on the line. there is NOBODY else left in the pen. it's wake or done.
what happens next? reuben sierra is struck out. SWINGING. by one of the only two capable pitchers on either bench and in the entire american league who is left standing.
and STILL the sox can't score in the bottom of the 13th. (they go down 1-2-3 to add insult to injury, and good on loaiza for at least having two innings of good stuff at the absolute bottom of the yankees' pen).
so it's clark, cairo and jeter again. strikeout, fly out, ground out. 1-2-3. the kind of emphatic point that a professional and a leader and a winner puts on his example, in order to say, though he can't swing the bat himself, let's do this, guys. let's do this.
on to the bottom of the 14th.
yes, wakefield has pulled yet another gritty, gutsy miracle out of his fluttering flopping and floundering knuckleball, and a fastball that barely wakes up the radar gun, let alone registers anything out of the 60's. he has stood 60 feet away in front of the best lineup baseball has ever compiled since murderer's row--200 million dollars worth of ball-pounding monstrosity--and he has gone full around it and then some, surviving three passed balls (in one inning!) and giving up only one single solitary hit, all while throwing three (THREE!) shutout extra-inning innings while his team has produced absolutely nothing at the plate.
bellhorn strikes out. (yeah, he does that a little). damon walks. cabrera strikes out. ramirez walks. first and second, and, then, finally, papi comes again to the plate.
he is, bar none and hands down, the greatest clutch hitter in major league baseball. he won the game the night before with a walk-off extra inning home run. he's big papi. but he never gets to the dish without wake. no one on that team gets anywhere unless wake takes that bitter pill in the fourth inning of game 3 and guts out and gets ten outs. and then no one on that team gets anywhere unless wake throws three of the most glittering extra playoff innings to that point anyone had ever seen, (getting around THREE passed balls in one inning to gild the lily), and THE three most glittering extra playoff innings in his team's history.
wake da man.
so roger clemens didn't like to carry his own luggage. jonny lester and company liked to drink beer and eat fried chicken while their team went down to the worst collapse in pennant race history. josh beckett thinks that, at almost half a million dollars per start, that it's no big deal that he prefers to skip one and play golf instead. (none of our business, yo).
not one of these guys is worthy to pick up and carry tim wakefield's jock strap, and you can tell them all i said so.
there's an example to follow in the dugout this year. AN example. dustin pedroia. for the past 17 seasons there has been another one, and, not for nothing, but the disintegration of things in botox bobby v's little prima donna circus is not a coincidence when you realize that the team management and ownership told both wake and tek and any semblance of a championship to take a hike.
no, wake's stats weren't gonna wake the ghost of cy young.
but wake's professionalism is so stark in its absence that i have no idea how any of these people in the organization, from larry lucchino on down, are allowed to keep their jobs.
wake da man.