Of all the great stories at the 80th MLB All-Star Game, the surprise run of Nelson Cruz in the Home Run Derby or the 30 first-time All-Stars on the roster, the greatest story for me was the story of Tim Wakefield.
At age 42, Wakefield is the oldest first-time All-Star since Satchel Paige in 1952. Paige was 45.
Wakefield, who began his pro career in 1992 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, played a critical role for the Pirates, going 8-1 with an ERA of 2.14. Wakefield finished third in ROY voting to Eric Karros and Moises Alou.
After a dismal sophomore season (6-11, 5.61 ERA) Wakefield was released by the Pirates on April 20th 1995. He was signed six days later by the Boston Red Sox.
Wakefield didn't let his release discourage him, as he went 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA and finished in the top three in Cy Young award voting.
Over the past 15 seasons, Wakefield has climbed the statistical ladder for the Red Sox, and is at or near the top in most pitching categories.
He is currently third in career wins with 175 (behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who both have 192), is second in games played with 521 (behind Bob Stanley who has 637), is third in innings pitched with 2690.3 (behind Cy Young's 2728.3 IP and Roger Clemens's 2776.0 IP), is second in strikeouts with 1858 (behind Roger Clemens's 2590).
He ranks first in games started (384) and batters faced (11,586).
But, sadly, the one thing that was missing from Wakefield's resume was an All-Star appearance.
In 2009, he got it.
The situation couldn't have been better. AL Manager Joe Maddon named Roy Halladay (10-3, 2.85 ERA, 106 K) the starter. I figured Wakefield (11-3, 4.31 ERA, 61 K) would get into the game early.
Minnesota Twins C Joe Mauer was starting the game, and had some experience catching knuckleballs. He has to catch reliever R.A Dickey on a regular basis. Mauer says the only thing different between knuckleballers is that Dickey throws his harder.
Mauer also brought the glove he uses to catch Dickey...just in case.
It was the perfect situation. Maddon would leave Halladay in for his two innings, then put Wakefield in while Mauer was still catching.
So the first two innings go by, and Halladay leaves after surrendering three runs on four hits, and the AL is down 3-2 to the NL.
I figure this would be a perfect place for Wakefield to come and log his inning.
Bottom of the third, out trots Chicago White Sox P Mark Buehrle. Buehrle (9-3, 3.66 ERA, 66 K) is a four time All-Star, and was the AL Starter in 2005.
Bottom of the fourth, out trots Kansas City Royals P Zach Greinke. Greinke (10-5, 2.12 ERA, 129 K) is a first-time All-Star.
Bottom of the fifth, Maddon sends Detroit Tigers P Edwin Jackson. Jackson (7-4, 2.53 ERA, 97 K) played for Maddon's AL Pennant winning Tampa Bay Rays last season before being dealt to the Tigers last December.
By this time, I knew that Wakefield has almost zero chance to get in the game. Maddon replaced Mauer with Cleveland Indians C Victor Martinez in the bottom of the sixth, and put Seattle Mariners P Felix Hernandez on the mound.
I figured the only way that Wakefield would pitch now would be extra innings.
After Mauer's RBI double in the fifth, the score was 3-3, and remained tied going into the eighth inning. Detroit Tiger Curtis Granderson hit a one out triple, and Baltimore Oriole Adam Jones hit him in with a sacrifice fly to take a 4-3 lead.
At this point, the AL pitchers had retired 15 batters in a row going into the bottom of the eighth inning. Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched the bottom of the seventh, and Twins closer Joe Nathan came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth. Joe Maddon was setting the game up for New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
After recording the first two outs (18 straight outs), Nathan walked San Deigo Padre Adrian Gonzalez, then gave up a hit to LA Dodger Orlando Hudson.
Then Ryan Howard came to the plate.
Nathan sat him down.
After a 1-2-3 top of the ninth for the AL, the NL came up to try to send the game into extra innings for me.
Rivera sat them down in a row, ending Wakefield's chances of pitching.
How ironic is it that the one All-Star Game that I want to go to extra innings doesn't?
I remember in the 2001 All-Star Game, with A-Rod starting at short and Cal Ripken Jr at 3rd, A-Rod elected to play third base and let Cal play SS, which he had predominantly played for the first 15 years of his career.
What would have happened, I wonder, if Buehrle had told Madden to put Wakefield in before him?
I read on MSN.com after the game that Maddon had indeed intended on saving Wakefield for extra innings, citing that he had the freshest arm. What about the other pitchers on the roster: Josh Beckett, Brian Fuentes, Andrew Bailey, or Justin Verlander?
After the game, reporters caught up with Wakefield. Wakefield, as always, was very gracious for his opportunity.
"I would like to have pitched, but it's OK. It's an experience that I'll never, forget the rest of my life. I'll cherish it forever. It's just awesome being in this clubhouse with the greatest players in the world. Being able to partake in my first All-Star Game at 42 years old is pretty cool.''