In some respects, sentiment now offers Tim Wakefield’s best shot at making the All-Star team. In some respects, sentiment for Wakefield’s candidacy contributed to the Red Sox’ 6-5 loss against the Mariners in 11 innings on Friday. (Recap.)
Make no mistake: virtually everyone in and around the Red Sox would like to see Wakefield become a first-time All-Star at the age of 42. Members of the team make little secret of their rooting interest.
“If Wake’s on this All-Star team, it would be a really pleasurable message,” Sox manager Terry Francona said before Friday’s game. “I wish I had the ability to make the announcement.”
And so, in a season in which the knuckleballer injected himself into the conversation for that honor primarily on the strength of his wins total, it was understandable that the Sox wanted to give him every chance to become the first pitcher in the league with 11 victories.
Wakefield pitched quite well at times on Friday, but a hiccup in the third and fourth innings left him behind the eight ball against the Mariners and ace Felix Hernandez. In those two frames, Wakefield was stung for four runs in unlikely fashion – keyed by a homer from Ronny Cedeno, whose .131 batting average entering Friday was the worst in baseball by almost 50 points.
But Wakefield settled, and shut out the M’s in the fifth through seventh innings. Even so, in most games, the Sox would have called it a night at that point.
Wakefield had been held to 93 or fewer pitches in each of his previous five starts, and had been held to 101 or fewer pitches in his prior 11 outings. But the Sox, who were trailing, 4-3, after seven innings, wanted Wakefield to stay in the game and to squeeze out one more inning in order to buy more time for a comeback. Clearly, with final decisions on the All-Star roster coming, the Sox wanted the knuckleballer to have a shot at that 11th win.
“Obviously,” acknowledged Sox manager Terry Francona, “we wanted to give Wake every opportunity tonight to get a win.”
“We probably pushed him a little deeper in the game,” agreed pitching coach John Farrell, “because he's earned that right to have an opportunity to record another win.”
The move may have backfired, however. Wakefield gave up a leadoff homer to Jose Lopez in the top of the eighth, putting the Sox at a 5-3 deficit. And so, the Sox’ two-run rally in the bottom of the eighth merely served to tie the game, rather than provide the team with a lead and a win. The game extended into extra innings, where the Mariners plated a pair of runs against reliever Ramon Ramirez to beat the Sox.
Wakefield received a no-decision, and saw his ERA increase slightly to 4.30. Even though he provided his team with innings, he did little to advance his candidacy for the All-Star game. He must now wait until Sunday to find out if he’ll get a spot in the exhibition game for the first time in a distinguished career that began in 1992.
“Hopefully I can make the team,” Wakefield said. “If not, I can’t. All I can do is go out there and try to win for us, and it’s up to the manager and the rest of the guys in the league to vote me in.”
While Wakefield will have to wait to learn about the potential All-Star honor, there will be no question about another honor that he did secure on Friday. He made his 383rd career start as a Red Sox, surpassing Roger Clemens for the most turns as a rotation member in franchise history.
“It was a pretty special night for me,” said Wakefield. “(The record) means I’ve been here a long time and been given the opportunity and been blessed to be healthy for as long as I have, and the organization has been giving me the ball this long. And I’m very, very thankful for that, and hopefully I can continue to go.”
In many respects, that is the more significant achievement. An All-Star game represents a fleeting success. A franchise record for starts represents the consistency, reliability and value of the pitcher’s contributions over the long haul.
Here are four other things we learned on Friday:
JASON BAY’S U.S. CITIZENSHIP COMES NINE YEARS TOO LATE
Canadian self-governance dates to July 1, 1867. Jason Bay became a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada on July 2 of this year.
“I had a text from a friend who said, ‘What a way to celebrate Canada Day – become an American,’” Bay mused.
Bay described it as an honor to gain U.S. citizenship, particularly since his wife and two daughters are U.S.-born citizens.
“I’m very proud to do it,” said Bay. “It hasn’t hit me yet. I guess it might not hit me until they ask me to serve in the army or something.”
Of course, there was a time when Bay’s career was nearly jeopardized by his lack of a U.S. passport. After he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 22nd round of the 2000 draft, Bay quickly agreed to sign for $1,000.
Though a Canadian player drafted by a Canadian franchise, Bay’s career was stalled by a most unexpected element: the difficult of acquiring a working visa.
“I just kind of assumed it was something that people ran into all the time. I’m from Canada, but I’m still a visa player,” said Bay. “That was back at the time when each team had only a certain number (of visas). I don’t know if they had to apply for a whole new one, or wait until someone got released and then transferred that one. But I just sat at home for the better part of three weeks.
“There was nothing. (The Expos) were like, ‘Yeah—we’re working on it.’ I worked out with a local men’s team, then I waited for the phone call,” he continued. “There was a point where I didn’t think I was going to play that year. But I knew that eventually I’d get a chance. In hindsight, now, I probably should have been a lot more worried than I was. I chalk it up to being young and naïve, and thinking, ‘Oh—whatever happens…’”
While Bay’s citizenship and working status is now a matter of great prominence, he does not believe that his first professional season was a matter of national significance in the summer after he was drafted out of Gonzaga.
“I’m sure people were really stressing out about the 22nd rounder,” he said.
Bay finally did receive his working visa, and was assigned to Vermont of the New York-Penn League that summer.
THE RED SOX HAD SOME POSITIVE OFFENSIVE SIGNS
Jason Bay and Nick Green both carried 17 at-bat hitless streaks into Friday’s game, and their prospects for improvement seemed minimal. The Mariners had starter Felix Hernandez on the hill, a pitcher who is devastating to right-handers, who had a .219 average and just four extra-base hits in 192 at-bats this year.
But both players showed signs of abandoning their slumps in their first at-bats of the night. Bay crushed a run-scoring, ground-rule double to right in the bottom of the first, the start of a 1-for-4 night with a walk and two strikeouts against Hernandez.
Green likewise doubled against Hernandez the first time he faced him, part of a 2-for-4 night with two doubles and two runs batted in that was nearly even more significant. In the bottom of the eighth, with two on, one out and the Sox trailing, 5-3, Green squared a towering fly ball to left.
Off the bat, most of the Sox thought it would land in the Monster Seats. Instead, it kissed high against the Wall for a two-run double, tying the game rather than giving the Sox the lead.
Even so, the near miss by Green was a sign that the shortstop is once again feeling good at the plate. The same was true for Bay, who endured a dreadful five-strikeout game on Wednesday against the Orioles.
“Felix Hernandez wouldn’t have been my ideal guy to bust out of a slump against,” said Bay. “You have stretches where you’re seeing the ball good, where you’re not seeing the ball. That was kind of a positive for me today.
“I was very uncomfortable the last few days in Baltimore in the box. Today, I felt a little more comfortable. I’ve gone through spells before, a couple times a year, where you lose your contact point and all of sudden you’re up there and really flailing.
“You’re fighting yourself,” Bay continued. “Today, I finally felt again like it was just hitting. I was trying so hard before, like, ‘I’ve got to get a hit. I’ve got to get a hit. Today was a lot more relaxed, go up there, see the ball, okay, boom. That’s how it’s supposed to feel, but when you don’t have it, it’s the hardest thing to get back.”
One thing that was not learned was where Bay will hit in the lineup on Saturday. On Friday, Bay and David Ortiz traded spots in the batting order, with Ortiz moved up to cleanup and Bay sliding down to fifth.
The decision was pushed by the fact that Francona wanted to separate his right-handed hitters with Hernandez on the hill. The manager said that he was uncertain whether the switch would remain in place on Saturday.
MIKE LOWELL IS NOT ALLERGIC TO CHICKEN
When Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell prepared for an injection meant to relieve the comfort in his right hip, he encountered an unexpected question.
“The doctor,” said Lowell, “asked me if I have a reaction to poultry.”
The inquiry was based upon the fact that Synvisc, the lubricating substance that was put into Lowell’s hip, is derived from the combs in the back of a chicken’s head. But while the source of the shot might have been slightly bemusing, Lowell pronounced that he feels “great…really good” following the draining of fluid and the injection of Synvisc in his right hip on Monday.
Lowell said that he felt like he would have been able to play on Friday. Even so, the Sox opted to place him on the disabled list to permit him more time to strengthen his hip for the long haul. Lowell said that the decision was one of precaution rather than necessity, a means of ensuring that he will be well rested for the second half.
“We took the junk out and put good stuff in. We had a good oil change,” said Lowell. “I’m really looking forward to a good second half…I feel much better than I did in the last two months.”
While Lowell had felt growing discomfort in his hip while running, he said that in the days prior to his receiving the injection, he was starting to feel his hip affect him at the plate.
“When I felt it tight the last five days, I didn’t feel like I could put the weight on my back foot the same way when I was hitting,” said Lowell. “Anytime you start hitting that, you almost start changing things. In the long run, I want to get to the point where I’m playing the game and not thinking about anything.”
Lowell said that he was involved in the dialogue with team officials and medical personnel to develop a game plan for his return. Lowell will focus on building the muscles around his hip, taking this weekend off from baseball activities before resuming hitting and fielding while continuing his therapeutic exercises on Monday. He said that a rehab assignment may not be necessary, since he will be taking batting practice everyday starting Monday.
However, Lowell did acknowledge that he will likely have more days off in the second half than he did at the start of the season. Lowell played in 44 of the Sox’ first 45 games and 65 of the team’s first 67 contests.
“I’ve got to believe I’m not going to play 59 out of 60 after the second half. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still produce or play well,” said Lowell. “I don’t want to go through this year the way I did last year. I think I would be putting myself and the team in a position that would be not the best…
“I believe that’s going to be better for me long term,” Lowell added. “Dr. (Brian) Kelly (who performed the surgery on Lowell’s hip) was the one who told me sometimes the best off day is the one where you feel good, because you can really recharge. When you don’t feel good, you get a day off, it usually isn’t good enough.”
Also learned on the injury front:
--Daisuke Matsuzaka, who began throwing from 60 feet on Friday, will head to Fort Myers on Monday to follow a strengthening program that the Sox suggest will be deliberate. The team does not have any timetables for the pitcher’s return.
“This time, we're going to make sure that he's ready to pitch,” said Francona. “I guess we have some (timetable) in our head that maybe we think is realistic, but it's a long way off. It's going to be entirely based on how he's doing, so we'll see how it goes.”
--Jed Lowrie returned to the lineup for Triple-A Pawtucket as the designated hitter and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. The Sox are hopeful that he will be able to start playing shortstop this weekend.
JONATHAN PAPELBON’S DOG IS NOT ALLOWED TO CHEW ON HISTORY ANYMORE
As soon as he closed out the Sox’ 6-5 extra-inning victory on Wednesday, Jonathan Papelbon secured the ball that he used to set the new Red Sox franchise record for most career saves (133 and counting). He had it authenticated by Major League Baseball, and then, had one goal in mind for its preservation.
And what was that?
“Keep it away from my dog,” said Papelbon.
Papelbon, of course, has gone on record as saying that the ball used to close out Game 4 of the 2007 World Series against the Rockies was eaten by his dog. That keepsake, apparently, has been lost to history.
The ball used for the Sox’ saves record, however, will be spared that inglorious fate. Even so, Papelbon seems less concerned with the ball itself than with the milestone that it represented.
The build-up to the saves record had been on the closer’s mind, and so he is now looking forward to pitching without such anticipation to serve as mental clutter.
“Just the fact that it’s over with now, I can stop thinking about it, is real big for me,” said Papelbon. “I can move on. It’s just another step along the way.”
Papelbon pitched a scoreless 10th inning on Friday, allowing one hit and recording one strikeout.