When you consider the list of all-time great Red Sox pitchers, names like Cy Young, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez come to mind. Players like Smokey Joe Wood, Mel Parnell, and perhaps even Luis Tiant also merit consideration.
That's for good reason. Clemens and Young are tied for first on the club's all time wins list at 192 victories each; Mel Parnell is third with 123 wins; Tiant is fourth at 122; and Martinez and Wood are tied for fifth place with 117 wins apiece. Oh, by the way, the guy in second place is none other than Tim Wakefield. I know - hard to believe, huh? Not necessarily what you'd expect. On the evening of his 39th birthday, Wakefield won his tenth game of the season and took sole possession of the number two spot on the esteemed list.
Wakefield is second in games, third in innings pitched (trailing only Clemens and Young), and third in career strikeouts, behind Clemens and Martinez.
In eleven years with the Sox, Wakefield has slowly amassed a respectable sum of victories, albeit quietly. Perhaps that's because his very best season was way back in 1995, his first year with the team. That year, Wakefield posted a 16-8 record with a 2.95 ERA. Three years later, Wake posted a 17-8 record, but his ERA shot up to 4.58. Of the seven pitchers listed above, Wakefield has by far the highest career ERA - 4.32. The next closest is Tiant, and his 3.36 career ERA is almost a full point lower than Wakefield's. In fact, Wake is #33 on the team's all-time list.
The veteran knuckler's career has been highlighted by a series of ups and downs, perhaps the best example being his career win / loss percentage of 53%. Not only does the 38-year-old place highly on the team's list of all time leaders in some very distinguished categories, but he also ranks rather highly on some not so desired lists. For instance, Wakefield is first in total earned runs, and he trails only Clemens in walks allowed. By a long shot, he's given up the most home runs in team history (263), and unfortunately this year (if not early next year) he'll become the losingest pitcher in Red Sox history. That mark is currently held by Cy Young (112), and Wakefield is just five losses from surpassing the Hall of Famer.
Wakefield's career hasn't been marked by greatness so much as it has been by tenacity and grit. The man possesses a very competitive nature and an overriding will to win, or at least compete. He doesn't easily give up, or give in. Wakefield has shown a willingness to take the ball under almost any circumstances, placing the interests of the team above his own. His selfless acts, such as stepping up and making a lost cause relief appearance against the Yankees during their humiliating beating of the Sox in last years' ALCS, have shown true team spirit and class. He was also on the mound in extra innings at Yankee Stadium, in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, against You Know Who, pitching his heart out for an exhausted staff. Wakefield has come out of the bullpen at various times in his career without complaint. He's never concerned himself with inflating his career numbers, or padding his stats in a contract year. With him it's always been team first.
And that's why there's a certain poetic justice as Wakefield encroaches upon the milestone numbers of the team's all-time greats - players whom Wakefield probably wouldn't even feel comfortable being compared to. Tim Wakefield will play at least one more season for the Red Sox, and then his place in Red Sox history will be debated. Is he one of the greatest in team history? Some of his numbers would indicate yes, others no. But one thing is certain; numbers don't tell the story when it comes to heart, courage, desire and team spirit. Tim Wakefield may be number one in all of those categories. But those types of stats don't show up in the record books though.
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