Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wakefield in exclusive company, sort of

"Tim, the list of guys who have thrown back-to-back complete games at your age is very small," one reporter told Tim Wakefield, prefacing a question in Wednesday afternoon's postgame press conference.

"Is there only one?" Wakefield cut in to ask.

"No, there's a few."

"Dang it," Wakefield said.

The 42-year-old knuckleballer has a long way to go to break that particular record; Phil Niekro turned the trick in July of 1986, three months after he'd turned 47.

Still, though, he's the oldest pitcher to throw back-to-back complete games in Red Sox history -- and he's the oldest pitcher to turn the trick since Charlie Hough in 1992.

It doesn't even matter that he backed into the feat. He probably wouldn't have pitched nine innings, but when umpires called the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, he had himself his second straight complete game. (In case you've been living under a rock, he threw a complete game in Oakland a week ago, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning and finishing the game from there to bail out a totally depleted Red Sox bullpen.)

"I'll take it," he said.

He allowed one earned run in seven innings, striking out four and walking just one. He ran into a bit of trouble in the top of the fifth but wiggled out when he got Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer to pop out with the bases loaded.

Other than that, he was flawless. By the time the Red Sox hit three two-run home runs in the first three innings, the game was all but over.

"I was able to make some pitches I don't normally throw," he said. "I threw some fastballs, got a strikeout on a fastball today and got a strikeout on a curveball today. I was able to throw other pitches I normally didn't throw; I was able to pitch to the scoreboard. (The offense) made my job a lot easier today."

He also once again rescued the Red Sox bullpen. A week ago, he needed to go deep because a series of short outings by starting pitchers had all but exhausted any options Terry Francona had for the late innings. On Wednesday, the doubleheader meant Red Sox pitchers would have to throw 18 innings in a single day; a short outing by Wakefield would have put a big onus on Brad Penny to pitch deep into the nightcap.

No worries. At this point, thanks to Tuesday's rainout and Thursday's off-day, Francona might be forced to lift Penny early just to get his bullpen a little bit of work.

"It wasn't as urgent as it was in Oakland, knowing that the guys had a breather last night going into today," Wakefield said. "We had a full 'pen. I was able to go seven, and the game got called. I fell into that one by accident, so now we've got another full bullpen for tonight's game."

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