Roger Clemens is on notice. Cy Young, too.
On Saturday, Tim Wakefield arrived in style atop a Red Sox franchise record list. The 42-year-old knuckleballer continued his remarkable season by delivering six shutout innings to lead his club to a 1-0 victory over the Braves in Atlanta (recap).
Wakefield (10-3, 4.18 ERA) allowed just three hits -- all singles -- to the Braves. No Atlanta baserunner got past second base while he was on the mound.
With the shutout performance, Wakefield became one of just three pitchers in the American League this year to reach double digits in victories. But that accomplishment was less impressive than one that attests to his place in Red Sox franchise history.
Wakefield’s 382nd start since signing with Boston in 1995 tied him with Roger Clemens for the most starts ever by a Red Sox pitcher. The number speaks to the pitcher’s reliability and durability over the years, as well as the length of his tenure in Boston: Wakefield’s 15 seasons with the Sox are the most ever by a pitcher.
“It’s a testament to not only longevity and perseverance, but also the organization for keeping me around and giving me a chance to still pitch in a Red Sox uniform,” Wakefield told reporters after the game. “Just to be mentioned with the names that I’m mentioned with is pretty cool.”
Of course, the record for most starts in franchise history is one that speaks to lunch-pail professionalism. But Wakefield is quickly coming to a point where more glamorous accomplishments are within reach.
He now has 174 wins, third most in franchise history. He is 18 wins shy of Cy Young and Clemens for the most victories in Sox history. That mark must now be considered attainable by the end of 2010, particularly given how rapidly Wakefield is accumulating victories this year.
Moreover, with the season just under halfway over, Wakefield has a shot at winning 20 games. If he accomplishes the feat, he would become the oldest player ever to do so for the first time, surpassing Mike Mussina, who was 39 when he finally cracked 20 W’s in 2008.
And, finally, Wakefield is building a case for inclusion in the 2009 All-Star game. If he is sent on the basis of his wins total and quality starts (he has 10, tied for 10th most in the A.L. with pitchers such as Roy Halladay, James Shields and Justin Verlander), he would become the second-oldest first-time All-Star ever, behind only Satchel Paige.
Wakefield’s candidacy for the honor received a major boost on Saturday. Because the Sox-Braves game was broadcast nationally, it created a broader awareness for his season-long contributions. On Saturday night, national baseball shows touted Wakefield’s worthiness for a spot on the squad that will represent the American League in St. Louis.
The Sox will surely throw their weight behind a sentimental favorite whose accomplishments in a Boston uniform represent more than just a long period of time in the same uniform.
“He continues to pitch his rear end off," Red Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters. "He just keeps going out there and doing what he’s supposed to do. It's fun to watch."
THE RED SOX MADE HAY IN THE OFFSEASON OUTFIELD MARKET
In early November, the consensus on whether Mark Kotsay might end up back in Boston was fairly straightforward: no chance.
Kotsay had offered a larger-than-expected contribution as an outfielder as well as a first baseman over the final five weeks of the regular season and during the playoffs. But while he was happy to embrace a part-time role for a short time, doing so for the long haul seemed out of the question. Kotsay, after all, was viewed by some as the best outfielder available in free agency.
But a market for Kotsay’s services – at least as a starter – never materialized. And so, the outfielder accepted the opportunity to return to a city where he enjoyed playing for a couple months as a backup. He signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract (with incentives he’s unlikely to reach this year).
Though he missed the first two months of the season following back surgery and a calf injury, Kotsay has reshaped the Red Sox’ bench in June. He’s been a useful offensive contributor despite his part-time role, hitting .297 with a respectable .738 OPS while contributing solid defense at all three outfield spots and first base. Against right-handers, he is hitting .345 with an .870 OPS.
Kotsay was in the starting lineup on Saturday, giving Jason Bay a rare breather. (Bay sat out for just the second time this year.) Ultimately, his presence in the lineup played a big role in the outcome of the game.
With two on and two out in the top of the sixth inning, Kotsay stuck with a 2-2 slider on the outside corner from Braves starter Javier Vazquez. Kotsay lined the pitch to the left for a run-scoring single, the only run of the day for either club. The Sox are now 6-1 in games started by Kotsay, and 12-3 in games in which he’s played.
Kotsay is just one part of an offseason outfield puzzle that has treated the Sox well. Rocco Baldelli, who also signed as a free agent, has given the Sox a strong defender and right-handed bat off the bench, hitting .286 with an .851 OPS overall, and .333 with a .926 OPS against lefties.
Meanwhile, the Sox were able to capitalize on the limitations of the offseason outfield market by dealing Coco Crisp to Kansas City for reliever Ramon Ramirez. Ramirez has become a key part of a dominating bullpen, forging a 1.89 ERA. Crisp was hitting .228 with a .714 OPS before undergoing season-ending surgery for a torn labrum.
ON THE SUBJECT OF RECORDS…
Wakefield isn’t the only one chasing milestones. Jonathan Papelbon worked around a ninth-inning double to record his 18th save of the season (in 19 opportunities). He now has 131 career saves, all with the Red Sox, one shy of the franchise record held by Bob Stanley.
There is little doubt that Papelbon will take possession of the franchise mark in that category in the coming days. More interest, perhaps, is the way he’s tracking among all closers in baseball history.
Papelbon’s 131 saves are tied for the fifth-most ever by a pitcher in his first five seasons (includes partial seasons). By the end of this year, depending upon how many saves both Papelbon and Bobby Jenks (135 saves) amass, there’s a chance that the Sox closer could move as high as the top couple spots on that list.
Of course, none of that has much bearing on whether Papelbon can make a run at career saves records. Billy Koch, after all, is the standard-setter among saves in the first five years of his career, having recorded 155. Koch recorded just eight saves in his sixth season before suffering career-ending arm injuries.
LOWELL, LOWRIE WILL NEED TIME BEFORE THEY CAN HELP THE RED SOX
Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell revealed after Saturday’s game that, after consulting with the Red Sox’ medical staff, he has decided to receive a Synvisc injection to address discomfort in his right hip.
The shot is meant to lubricate a joint that has become creaky and bothersome, a normal development following surgery. Lowell will fly to Boston after Sunday’s game and have the shot administered on Monday. In a best-case scenario for the third baseman, he could be ready to play again as soon as Tuesday, though Lowell -- who flew out as a pinch-hitter in his lone at-bat on Saturday -- tried to steer clear of timetables.
“I’m hoping to feel a lot better first," Lowell told mlb.com. "It’s not normal to look forward to an injection, but I’m really looking forward to it. I want to feel the relief that hopefully it can provide. I defer to them when they say I can play after that."
Jed Lowrie, meanwhile, returned to game activity for the first time since Tuesday, when the shortstop -- on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket as he continues his comeback from left wrist surgery -- was hit on the left knee by a pitch. Lowrie went 0-for-3 and played six innings.
Like Lowell, Lowrie is trying to avoid establishing timetables that might lend set him up for disappointment.
“I don’t have a timetable right now,” Lowrie said before Saturday’s game. “The pitch to my knee didn’t help on Tuesday. It’s only my third real game back because of Tuesday so I’m just looking to get at-bats.”
Because of Lowrie’s limited number of at-bats, he remains at a relatively early stage in his progressions during his rehab assignment. PawSox manager Ron Johnson suggested that Lowrie is amidst a “re-spring training” phase.
That notion raises the possibility that Lowrie will be unable to return during the first half of the season. With two weeks left until the All-Star break, it remains to be seen whether Lowrie will get enough playing time to regain his timing and game stamina prior to the mid-summer recess.
“(A second-half return) might be realistic, I don’t know," Francona told reporters. "We’ve kind of told him all along. 'Let us know how you feel, when you think you’re ready. We don’t want to rush you,' and that was even when things weren't going real well here…I think it’s easy to [rush him], but it doesn’t help anybody."
IN ONE RESPECT, AT LEAST, THE SOX WILL BE HAPPY FOR THE END OF INTERLEAGUE PLAY
Tim Wakefield showed the form that led him to be drafted as a first baseman out of Florida Tech in 1988. Wakefield rifled a single through the infield against Braves starter Vazquez.
“It felt good,” Wakefield said on the Red Sox Post-Game Show. “I don’t like running the bases. But the hit felt good.”
The hit also felt rare for the Sox staff as a whole. Sox pitchers are now 2-for-19 (.105) this year, following a 2008 season in which they went 0-for-25 for a combined two-year average of .045.
Their Sox are unlikely to miss having their pitchers hit after Sunday, the final interleague contest of the regular season for the Sox. But otherwise, the Sox would seem to have no qualms with the opportunity to play against National League foes.
The Sox are 11-6 in interleague play this year, good for a .647 winning percentage. Even so, while the team has found the going somewhat easier against N.L. foes than American League opposition, the difference hasn’t been as pronounced as it was in recent years. The Sox are, after all, playing .614 ball against the American League this year.
Overall, the A.L. has a 129-108 (.544) record against the N.L. in interleague this year. This will mark the fifth straight year in which the A.L. has had at least a .540 winning percentage in interleague play, topped by an amazing .611 mark in 2006.
Jennifer McCaffrey contributed to this story.