Tim Wakefield career highlights

A few days ago, longtime Red Sox knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield announced his retirement after a lengthy big-league career that stretches back to the George H. W. Bush presidency.

When a player retires, it’s time to look back on his career, and that’s exactly what I’d like to do here. Below is a list of Tim Wakefield’s career highlights. Included are some of the greatest and memorable games he appeared in, his personal bests and worsts, and maybe an oddity or two he happened to be on hand for. Here they are, in chronological order:

Wakefield and his knuckleball.

Pirates tenure

July 31, 1992: Wakefield makes his big-league debut, pitching a complete game in a 3-2 Pirates win. Both runs are unearned, and the big blast in his support is a two-run home by Pirate leftfielder Barry Bonds. It’s home run No. 162 for Bonds. Bernard Gilkey is the first batter Wakefield ever faces, and he lines out to third base to begin the game.

Wakefield walks five and fans 10 on the day. In his 463 career starts, this will be one of only six with at least 10 punchouts. Wakefield throws 146 pitches in all in his debut. Five days later, Wakefield will throw 144 more. It was a different time.

Wakefield also throws three wild pitches in his debut. Though he’ll unleash 134 wild pitches over his career, he’ll never have three in one game again.

Aug. 26, 1992: When Wakefield’s Pirates take on Tom Candiotti and the Dodgers, it’s the first knuckler vs. knuckler contest baseball has seen in 10 years. Today, Wakefield gets the better of the Candy Man, tossing his first career shutout for a 2-0 win. He also picks off two runners in this game, something he’ll never do again.

Sept. 23, 1992: Well isn’t this embarrassing. In the top of the sixth, it looks like Wakefield will get his third career hit when he bops one into the outfield against the Expos, but right fielder Larry Walker has other ideas. Walker and his terrific arm fire to first base to beat the slow-moving Wakefield for the rare 9-3 groundout. Montreal goes on to win in 14 innings on a rare walk-off grand slam by a young Moises Alou.

Oct. 9, 1992: NLCS Game Three: Pittsburgh trails Atlanta two games to none when Wakefield gets the start. He delivers, pitching a complete-game victory over Tom Glavine as the Pirates win, 3-2.

Oct. 13, 1992: NLCS Game Six: Pittsburgh will be eliminated if they lose, but that doesn’t happen. They score eight runs in the second in an easy 13-4 win. For the second time in the NLCS, Wakefield tosses a complete game. He’ll never have another postseason complete game. Pittsburgh will lose Game Seven the next day.

April 6, 1993: Despite only having two months’ experience as a major league pitcher, Wakefield gets the nod as Opening Day starter. This will never happen to him again. He leads the Pirates to a 9-4 win over the Padres and experiences his only multi-hit day at the plate, with two singles in four at-bats.

April 27, 1993: It’s the day that would not end for Wakefield. He pitches 10 innings against Atlanta, allowing two runs on six hits and 10 (!) walks. Despite facing 46 batters, he fans only one all game. The victim is Terry Pendelton, who goes down on three pitches in the first inning. In all, he throws 172 pitches, and even back in those days that got people’s attention.

Wakefield gets the win when Pittsburgh scores four in the top of the 11th. Manager Jim Leyland had him come out for the bottom of the 11th, but when Wakefield began the inning with back-to-back walks, the bullpen came in to finish off the Braves. Pirate reliever Paul Wagner fans two, giving him more strikeouts on the day than Wakefield.

To date, this is the last time a Pirate pitcher has gone at least 10 innings in one game.

July 7, 1993: That must be fun. In the fourth inning, Wakefield hits a home run off Houston’s Mark Portugal for what will turn out to be his only career dinger. However, Wakefield’s joy is short-lived, as he allows four hits and a walk in the next half-inning and is taken out of the game.

He isn’t just taken out of the game. With his ERA on the wrong side of 6.00, the Pirates send Wakefield back down to the minors immediately after this contest. He’ll come back in September, but that will be it for his NL career.

Sept. 26, 1993: In just his fourth game back from the minors, Wakefield leads the Pirates to a 1-0 win by tossing a complete-game shutout. It’s the only time he’ll win a game 1-0 via a CG SHO. Wakefield also gets a single, though it doesn’t factor in the game’s only run. This game gives Wakefield a personal one-game best WPA: 0.744.

Sept. 30, 1993: Wakefield leaves the Pirates with a bang, tossing his second consecutive complete-game shutout. It’s the only time he’ll do that in back-to-back starts. Actually, there’s quite a bit more to this game than that. It’s a shutout win over the Phillies, a team that had not yet been shut out all year long. Had it not been for Wakefield, the 1993 Phillies would join the 1932 Yankees as the only teams of the 20th century to never get shut out over a full season.

Red Sox tenure

May 27, 1995: Wakefield debuts with the Red Sox, pitching seven solid innings for the win, as Boston triumphs over the Angels, 12-1. The first batter he faces in the AL is Tony Phillips, whom Wakefield walks. Rather improbably, Phillips was still playing organized baseball in an independent minor league as recently as a year or two ago. For all I know, he still is. It sure would be something if the first guy Wakefield faced as a Red Sock ends up lasting longer on the diamond than Wakefield himself.

June 4, 1995: In just his third game with his new team, Wakefield pitches 10 innings in one game, something no other Red Sox hurler has done since then. He goes the distance for a complete-game, 2-1 win over the Mariners.

Aug. 13, 1995: Wakefield is having the greatest stretch of his career. He guides the Red Sox to a 3-2 win today over the Orioles, giving him a record of 14-1 on the year. Wakefield’s ERA is 1.65 as of this moment. If you include his final two games in Pittsburgh in 1993 (Wakefield wasn’t in the majors in 1994), his ERA is 1.44 over his last 19 starts.

Oct. 6, 1995: ALDS Game Three: Boston needs a win to avoid elimination from the postseason, but Wakefield is unable to help. He allows seven runs in 5.1 innings as the Indians win, 8-2, to complete the series sweep.

June 10, 1996: Wakefield sets a personal “best” by allowing 16 hits in one game. He lasts eight innings against the White Sox and allows eight runs (six earned) in a 8-2 loss. In all the years since then, only twice has any pitcher allowed 16 hits in a game, and no one has allowed more than that.

July 29, 1997: Making his 108th career start, Wakefield tosses his sixth career shutout. Though he will start another 355 games, he will never have another shutout. The Red Sox top the Mariners, 4-0.

Aug. 19, 1998: Wakefield does something he’ll never do again. He tosses a full nine innings despite striking out zero batters. He and the Red Sox handily top the Royals, 11-1.

Sept. 30, 1998: ALDS Game Two: Wakefield doesn’t have it, as the Indians clobber him for five runs while he’s only able to make four outs. His ERA of 33.75 on the game is his worst ever in the postseason. Cleveland will win the series and advance to the ALCS.

June 27, 1999: According to WPA, the worst game of Wakefield’s career comes here when he pitches in relief in the ninth and blows a game for Boston. Against the White Sox, in the space of four batters, a 6-4 Boston lead becomes a 7-6 White Sox advantage, and that’s the final. Wakefield’s WPA on the day: -0.712.

Sept. 2, 1999: Along with his 463 career starts, Wakefield has 164 relief appearances. His longest bullpen outing comes here, when he tosses the final six innings against the Royals. He allows no runs, but Boston loses, 4-2.

Oct. 10, 1999: ALDS Game Four: This year marks the first time Wakefield has been a reliever in the postseason. This game is his second October bullpen appearance, and it comes in one of the most one-sided games in postseason history as Boston obliterates the Indians, 23-7. About the only good thing to happen to Cleveland on the day was Wakefield’s stint in the fifth inning. He faced four batters, all of whom made it on base, three of whom scored. Boston advances to the ALCS, but Wakefield will not be used again after this game.

Sept. 8, 2000: Wakefield pitches in a game marked by an especially gruesome injury. In the ninth inning, after Wakefield’s relief stint is long since ended, fellow Boston pitcher Bryce Florie gets struck in the face by a line drive from Ryan Thompson. He has a fractured cheek, broken orb socket, and has blood going down his face as he leaves the game. He’ll return to pitch next year, though.

Aug. 11, 2002: Wakefield has lasted long enough to start accruing some personal career milestones, and today he defeats the Twins, 3-1, for win No. 100. His career record is 100-93. For the rest of his career, he’ll be 100-87.

April 29, 2003: In the third inning of today’s Royals-Red Sox game, Carlos Beltran does something no one else ever does against Wakefield. He legs out an inside-the-park home run. Wakefield and the Red Sox win anyway, 7-2.

Oct. 5, 2003: ALDS Game Four: Boston needs a win to stay alive against the A’s, and Wakefield must hold down the fort to give the offense a chance to comeback. He enters the game in the sixth inning with Oakland leading 4-2 and records five outs without allowing a run. Boston will later come back and win and then win the next game to advance to the ALCS against the Yankees.

Oct. 8, 2003: ALCS Game One: Wakefield does his job for Boston. He pitches six innings and allows just two runs as the Red Sox top the Yankees in the ALCS opener, 5-2.

Oct. 13, 2003: ALCS Game Four: Boston trails two games to one entering this game, so they need a big start from Wakefield to even the LCS. A big start is just what Wakefield provides, as he allows one run in seven innings with eight whiffs. Boston wins, 3-2.

Oct. 16, 2003: ALCS Game Seven: We all know what the most (in)famous pitch of Wakefield’s career is, right? Wakefield throws it in this one in the 11th inning to Aaron Boone. Wakefield entered the tied game in relief in extra innings and threw a scoreless frame in the 10th, but his first pitch in the 11th was a no-doubter walk-off shot that in New England transformed Aaron Boone’s name to Aaron F. Boone.

Aug. 8, 2004: In Comerica Park, Wakefield allows a career-worst six home runs in just five innings against the Tigers, yet he gets the win anyway as Boston outslugs Detroit, 11-9.

Oct. 16, 2004: ALCS Game Three: It’s the low point for Boston in the ALCS. The Yankees crush them to go up three games to none. Wakefield pitches 3.1 frames in relief, allowing five runs in a game that appears to end Boston’s championship hopes.

Oct. 18, 2004: ALCS Game Five: This is the game I always think of with Wakefield. He enters in relief in the 12th inning of a tie game. If he allows a run, the Yankees win and Boston’s season is over.

In the 13th inning, that very nearly happens. Because Boston needs offense, Jason Varitek is catching instead of the normal defensive specialist who would handle Wakefield. The first batter of the inning reaches base on a swinging strike three passed ball in the dirt. After a force out and a flyout, the runner goes to second on a passed ball. Then he goes to third on another passed ball.

Another passed ball will give the Yankees the game, but Varitek has to keep calling for the knuckler because it’s Wakefield’s best chance to get the third out. Sure enough, Ruben Sierra strikes out to end a seven-pitch at-bat, and the game remains tied. The next inning, Boston wins.

It’s Wakefield’s final postseason victory. After this, he’ll have four more postseason appearances and allow 19 earned runs in 16.1 innings.

Oct. 23, 2004: World Series Game One: For the first time in his career, Wakefield appears in the World Series. It’s hardly a storybook moment for him, though. He allows five runs in 3.2 innings, but Boston’s bats bail him out in an 11-9 win. They’ll win the World Series in four games, and this turns out to be his only appearance in the Fall Classic.

June 12, 2005: For the first time since 1993, Wakefield drives in a run. With one out and the bases loaded in the sixth inning at Wrigley Field, he hits into a force play that scores the lead runner. Wakefield also has a good day on the mound, allowing one run in seven innings, as Boston wins, 8-1.

Sept. 11, 2005: Wakefield sets a personal best by fanning 12 Yankees in one game. Unfortunately for him, he loses anyway, 1-0, to Randy Johnson. A first-inning homer by Jason Giambi accounts for the game’s only score. Wakefield allows three hits in an eight-inning, complete-game performance.

Sept. 16, 2005: Against the A’s, Wakefield walks the game’s first batter, Mark Ellis. In his remaining 150 starts, Wakefield will never again walk the leadoff man. It’s the only time he does it in his final 223 starts. However, he did it 10 times before then. After walking Ellis, Wakefield doesn’t walk another batter all game, allowing two runs in nine innings before Boston wins in 10, 3-2.

Oct. 7, 2005: ALDS Game Three: Wakefield gets the start against Chicago with Boston trailing two games to none. The game is decided in the sixth inning. It’s 2-2 after five frames, but Wakefield allows a walk and homer to make it 4-2 Chicago. In the bottom of the sixth, Boston scores a run and loads the bases with no outs, only to see reliever Orlando Hernandez come in and end the threat with a pair of pop-ups and a strikeout. Chicago wins to advance to the ALCS.

April 15, 2006: Roger Craig once said it takes a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games in a season, and by a similar logic today Wakefield proves he’s been a real good pitcher for Boston, as today’s 3-0 loss to the Mariners makes Wakefield the Red Sox all-time franchise loss leader. It’s No. 113 for him, narrowly edging Cy Young (112) and Roger Clemens (111). Wakefield will end his career with 168 losses.

Oct. 16, 2007: ALCS Game Four: Wakefield gets clobbered by the Indians, as they score five runs on him in 4.2 innings. The loss puts Boston down three games to one, but they’ll win the next seven straight to end the season with a championship. They’ll post those seven wins without using Wakefield, though.

May 6, 2008: Wakefield has his best start ever in terms of Game Score. He pitches eight scoreless innings, allowing two hits and walking none while fanning six for a Game Score of 84. Boston tops Detroit, 5-0.

June 25, 2008: When 45-year-old Randy Johnson starts against 41-year-old Wakefield, it’s the oldest combined age of opposing starters in a game since Sept. 25, 1965, when 59-year-old Satchel Paige faced 29-year-old Bill Monbouquette. Wakefield tosses seven shutout innings for a 5-0 Boston win over Arizona.

May 7, 2009: It’s the best inning of offensive support Wakefield ever gets. Boston enters the bottom of the sixth trailing 2-1 but scores a dozen times to take a commanding lead. Boston and Wakefield get the win, 13-3.

July 14, 2009: Less than a month before his 43rd birthday, Wakefield is selected to his first and only All-Star team. He doesn’t play in it, but the AL wins anyway, 4-3.

April 20, 2010: Apparently, Wakefield and catcher Victor Martinez are having trouble working quickly together, because in the six innings Wakefield is on the mound, the opposing Texas Rangers run wild with nine stolen bases. There are no caught stealings. Wakefield is rattled and frustrated enough on the mound to commit his first balk in eight years and 1,361.1 innings. Boston wins anyway, 7-6.

May 28, 2010: According to Game Score, this is the worst of Wakefield’s 463 starts. He allows nine runs (all earned) on a dozen hits and three walks while fanning just one in 3.2 frames. His Game Score is –1. Not surprisingly, Boston loses, 12-5, to the Royals.

June 8, 2010: During this game, Wakefield passes Roger Clemens to become the all-time Red Sox franchise leader in innings pitched. By the time he retires, he’s the all-time leader in innings, batters faced, earned runs allowed, homers allowed, losses, starts, walks, and several other categories.

Aug. 13, 2010: A month after being demoted to the bullpen, Wakefield has a short and not-so-sweet relief stint. He throws just one pitch in the bottom of the 11th against Texas and sees batter Nelson Cruz launch it out of the park for a game-ending home run. It’s the only walk-off home run Wakefield ever allows. Well, the only one in the regular season, anyway.

June 8, 2011: It’s history of a sort. In the bottom of the fourth, Alex Rodriguez connects on a Wakefield offering for a home run. It’s the 400th career home run Wakefield has allowed. He’s one of only 12 pitchers to join that club. It’s fitting that A-Rod would hit it, because he hit more home runs off Wakefield (eight) than any other batter.

July 18, 2011: Wakefield allows a home run to J.J. Hardy in the fifth inning versus Seattle. This is the 388th home run he’s surrendered as a Red Sock, which is exactly twice as many as any other Boston pitcher. The Red Sox are the only team whose all-time home runs-allowed pitcher has over twice as many as the franchise runner-up.

Sept. 13, 2011: The ninth time is the charm. Fifty-one days after posting his 199th career victory, Wakefield finally gets No. 200 as the Red Sox pummel the Blue Jays, 18-6. It will be the last win of his career.

Sept. 27, 2011: Wakefield takes the mound for the last time. It’s not the stuff of storybook endings. Trying (and failing) to avoid a historic September collapse, Wakefield allows five runs in four innings against the archrival Yankees, who win 6-2. The last batter Wakefield ever faces is Alex Rodriguez, who singles. Boston outfielder Carl Crawford makes an error on the play, allowing Derek Jeter to score an unearned run as Wakefield’s career comes to an end.

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