Watching Tim Wakefield pitch last night in Oakland, I couldn't help but think it might have been his final start with the Red Sox; not just this season, but ever.
With Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett returning to the rotation today and Friday, respectively, Wakefield will be the odd man out.
Though Wakefield was unhappy with his move to the bullpen earlier this season, given the way he's pitched this year, he can't rightly complain. The 43-year-old pitcher is just 3-8 in 16 starts this season, with a 5.58 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.
Considering Wakefield's age (he'll be 44 next month) and poor performance this year, it's entirely possible — if not likely — the Sox will decline to bring him back next season. If that is the case, Wakefield has had a fascinating and overachieving career.
After being released by the Pirates on April 20, 1995, Wakefield was signed by the Red Sox six days later. The knuckle-baller has been with the Sox ever since, becoming the team's longest-tenured player in the process. That longevity has advanced Wakefield in the Sox' record book.
Wakefield is the Red Sox career leader in starts and innings pitched, and he is second to Roger Clemens in strikeouts.
However, Wakefield is also the Red Sox career leader in many less desirable categories, such as hits allowed, runs, earned runs, walks, and hit batsman. And in each of those categories, Wakefield leads by a long shot.
Trailing Clemens by only 70 Ks, it is possible that Wakefield could overtake the former Red Sox star next season.
More importantly to Wakefield, his 178 Red Sox victories put him just 14 behind Clemens and the legendary Cy Young. It was Wakefield's intention to surpass the two most famous Red Sox hurlers by the end of next season.
But with just three wins in 16 starts this year, that is looking increasingly less likely. As much as the Red Sox might like to see Wakefield reach the strikeouts and wins milestones, they don't want to see him hanging on just to do so.
After pitching 108 innings this season — third most on the team — Wakefield has certainly had his chances. No one can reasonably argue otherwise.
If Wakefield were to have gotten within striking distance of the two records this season, bringing him back next year would be a no-brainer. Loyalty aside, the PR and marketing opportunities alone would make it worth the Red Sox' while.
But with Wakefield pitching poorly and now headed back to the pen, his chances of surpassing Clemens and Young seem doubtful. And as much of a good soldier as Wakefield has been — a true leader both on and off the field — the Sox won't bring him back if they don't think he can give them a chance to win consistently.
Wakefield's knuckleball hasn't just frustrated opposing hitters; it's also frustrated a host of Red Sox catchers and managers. While Wakefield can often confuse and confound hitters, when he gets hit, he often gets hit hard. In addition, costly passed balls and wild pitches are to be expected.
Because Wakefield's primary pitch is so unpredictable, his starts are equally unpredictable. Each time he takes the mound, the results seem to be to a roll of the dice. Consistency has never been Wakefield's strong suit.
With all of this in mind, it's conceivable that we have finally seen the last start in Tim Wakefield's enduring career.
If it was indeed Wakefield's final start, it's quite fitting that it was such a mixed bag, which has defined his career.
Staked to a 4-0 lead in the second inning, Wakefield couldn't hold on, surrendering four runs in the bottom of the third. Wakefield loaded the bases on a double, a walk, and a hit batter. The runs then scored on a double, a passed ball, and a sacrifice fly.
All of it was par for the course during a typical Wakefield outing.
But, as is also customary for Tim Wakefield, he then shut down Oakland over the next three innings, allowing no further runs. The mixed performance was vintage Wakefield.
If it was indeed his final start, all we can say is, Thanks for the memories, Tim. Thanks for all the effort. Thanks for being a man of such great character and integrity.