Prior to Saturday's Red Sox' 3-2 loss to the Mariners, Tim Wakefield executed his line perfectly -- politically correct, to the point, and without hesitation.
"If I make it, great," he said regarding a potential selection to the American League All-Star team, which is to be named at 1 p.m. Sunday, "if not, no big deal."
That's where the innocuous statements regarding Wakefield's lot in life came to an end.
First came the explanation regarding his approach to deciding whether or not to lose any sleep over if his name will be called when rosters are announced Sunday afternoon.
"I'm not going to look back on the season and say, 'Hey, I won 18 or 20 games but, damn, I didn't make the All-Star team,'" Wakefield said. "I'm closer to 200 [wins], I'm closer to 2,000 strikeouts, I set a record yesterday (most starts by a Red Sox pitcher). There's a lot of positives to pull out of stuff instead of dwelling on one negative."
Then he brought up the big picture-type stuff, the kind of thinking that the 42-year-old admits continues to leave him shaking his head.
While the baseball world has been trying to decipher his All-Star candidacy, Wakefield has been flummoxed by some of what he has heard. The debate regarding his selection isn't the issue. The perception of how he got to this point is.
"A lot of it is unexpected," Wakefield said one day after his eight-inning, five-run appearance against Seattle, after which he stood with 10 wins and a 4.30 ERA with the Red Sox holding a 12-4 mark during his starts.
"That's the thing that weighs on my mind. I've been hearing some negative talk, like his ERA is too high. Wait a second. I come into the season as the fourth starter with expectations not too high, but now I've accomplished above expectations?! Why can't there be some celebration about what I've accomplished in the first half? Because it was way above expectations? That kind of bugs me sometimes. It's like, 'He's on the team but no matter what he does it's not going to be accepted.' It gets old. It's been happening for how long now?"
Wakefield has pitched like a top-of-the-rotation starter this season, a fact that is backed up by talk of his potential trip to St. Louis in just more than a week. And it isn't the first time, even in the last few years.
In the heart of the 2008 season Wakefield turned in 10 consecutive quality starts. But what many people choose to remember is the lasting image of one playoff start in which he surrendered five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.
Since signing his current, $4 million-a-year, revolving team-option contract -- which he surmises has kept him in a Red Sox uniform an extra two years and might do the same for another two -- Wakefield has compiled 58 the 306 wins notched by Sox starting pitchers.
Yet it took murmurs regarding a possible All-Star appearance for some to stop bringing up Wakefield's name in regards to potential bullpen duty every time there is a perceived overflow in the rotation.
He understands the crutches people like to lean on when analyzing his success: it's being done with a carnival pitch; at 42, it won't last for much longer; he can't be considered like a No. 1, 2 or 3 starter because he isn't paid like one.
But with the success still coming in waves, none of those hypotheses hold water in the eyes of the man who is approaching some of the organization's most hallowed records, and doing so without a hint of slowing down.
"It's like I have to prove myself time and time again," he said. "In my mind sometimes being a knuckleballer kind of hurts that. It's like, 'Oh, whatever, he's getting lucky.' But it should be about results."
While looking toward Sunday's announcement -- which just might be one of those moments where Wakefield's results are acknowledged -- we also look back at some things we learned from the day before:
PENNY ALSO ISN'T GETTING HIS DUE
After Brad Penny's latest outing -- in which he gave up just two runs on six hits while striking out six and walking one in six innings -- the starter finds himself back where he once resided two years ago when he was winning 16 games with a 3.03 ERA.
Penny is officially fearsome again.
In his last five starts he has a 2.20 ERA, while allowing three runs or less in eight of his last nine appearances, compiling a 2.74 in that stretch.
But yesterday, what told Penny's tale best of all wasn't the 97 mph fastballs, or a resiliency that helped him escape a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth by just giving up one Russell Branyan sacrifice fly (which came on an 11-pitch at-bat).
Perhaps the most encouraging sign was simply how long it took Penny to warm up prior to his 16th start.
"I think he's gotten better each time out. I think the stride of improvement is better than April and the early part of May. Today was a day he threw the least amount of pitches warming up, and then he comes out with the kind of velocity he showed," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "It shows how good he's feeling. His bounce back, his work, all of that has been outstanding."
Penny has clearly bought in to the Red Sox program, and it's paying off.
"Like I said, if I weren't here I don't know if I would be pitching," he said.
ORTIZ WAS ROBBED... AGAIN
The Mariners are one of a growing number of teams who go without a traditional advance scout. After the Red Sox hired Seattle's previous advance man, Steve Peck, the M's joined teams such as Tampa Bay and Milwaukee in relying on computer and video analysis.
Evidently, it's paying off. Just ask David Ortiz.
Saturday, Ortiz got a taste of the effectiveness of their approach when second baseman Jose Lopez leaped high in the air in shallow right field to take a sure single away from the Sox' pinch-hitter (who was subbing in for the day's starting designated hitter, Rocco Baldelli). The shift had struck again.
"I'm going to be a good coach one day," Ortiz said, "because I hit balls right at people.
"When Carlos Pena was here I hit a ball just like that and the second baseman jumped and caught it and here's Pena getting all mad in the dugout. He was like, 'That's a hit!' I told him, 'Don't worry, they're going to play you just like that one day.' Boom! They're playing him the following year."
But this series has been somewhat different, as Ortiz can attest to.
"If you watch the game (Friday night) the only at-bat the shortstop didn't move one way was my last at-bat, and that time I hit the ball right at him," he said. "They moved him like two steps toward second base just for that last at-bat. I don't know why. I just saw in in the video."
As for his pinch-hitting ability, which now sees Ortiz manning a .188 average (13-for-69) in the role, he simply said, "I stink!"
A DIFFERENT PITCHER
Before allowing three walks to the Mariners in the ninth inning -- leading to Chris Woodward's bases-loaded bloop single, just out of the reach of second baseman Dustin Pedroia for the game-winner -- Takashi Saito had only accomplished the feat of wildness once before. That came on July 13, 2006 in a two-inning stint for the Dodgers.
Through translator Masa Hoshino, these were Saito's explanations:
“In the beginning, I think I was overthinking things a little too much and trying to be a little too fine in spotting strikes and those ended up being balls and from there I couldn’t make the proper adjustments on the mound.”
“I’m not usually the kind of pitcher to give up a lot of walks to begin with. I can’t remember another incident like today.”
“For me, it’s always about maintaining a balance between mind, body and skill and having all those things at an equal level when I’m pitching out on the mound. But today, I think my mind was running a little bit ahead of myself. I was a little bit too emotionally geared up and my body couldn’t keep up with that."
For Farrell, however, it simply just came down to one day of poor command. Despite the bump in the road, for the pitching coach encouragement continues, whether it's regarding Saito's health, professionalism, or ability to get left-handers out (they were hitting .207 off the reliever coming in).
"That's more the aberration of anything we've seen on a consistent basis," Farrell said. "The thing he hasn't asked for or hasn't needed is an extra day off. There has been no issues at all from a health standpoint. He's a stabilizer for us in the bullpen, and guys draw from his professionalism. His calmness, and his ability to keep an inning under control have been big. Even today, as bad as the command got, he kept a big inning from happening and made a few big pitches when he had to."
VARITEK OWNS THE FOURTH, AND OTHER STUFF
With his two-run homer in the second inning off of Seattle starter Garrett Olson, Jason Varitek is now batting .351 with three homers and nine RBI in nine career games on the Fourth of July.
He is also hitting .438 against Olson with four homers, tying him for the most career homers off any one pitcher (the other being David Wells). No one else has hit more than two homers against Olson...
Prior to Saturday's loss, the Red Sox had won each of their previous seven series. It also marked the first series loss to the Mariners at Fenway Park since Aug. 14-16, 2001, amidst Seattle's 116-win season...
Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling -- and current WEEI.com blogger -- threw out the first pitch, joining in with the rest of Major League Baseball in helping draw awareness to 'Lou Gehrig's Disease,' also known as 'ALS.' It was part of an on-field ceremony, replicated throughout MLB, commemorating Gehrig's Yankee Stadium farewell speech.