Commentary

Wakefield honored to pass Clemens

Knuckleballer sets Red Sox record for innings; eyes victory mark next

Updated: June 9, 2010, 1:39 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

CLEVELAND -- They were Red Sox teammates for just two years, so it probably should surprise no one that when Tim Wakefield bumps Roger Clemens' name from another line in the team's record book, as he did here Tuesday night, Wakefield's cell phone isn't blowing up with congratulatory messages from the Rocket.

By Wakefield's reckoning, the two haven't been in touch since 2007, Clemens' last season in the game before disappearing into a toxic cloud of steroid allegations.

"It is what it is," Wakefield said of the lack of contact between the old friends. "We have families and kids and wives, all that stuff we have to deal with after we're done with baseball."

Tim Wakefield
AP Photo/Tony DejakTim Wakefield set one Red Sox record (innings pitched) and moved closer to another by picking up the win (he's now 15 away).

The knuckleballer has never joined the ranks of those who have taken their shots at Clemens since he became a baseball pariah. Even Tuesday night, when he went 7 1/3 innings in a 3-2 Red Sox win to displace Clemens as the pitcher who has thrown the most innings in a Red Sox uniform -- 2,777 and counting -- Wakefield spoke in reverential terms.

"Just to be mentioned in the same company as Roger is real special," Wakefield said, calling Clemens a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer. "I'm honored and humbled."

Perhaps, it was suggested to Wakefield, because of the loyalty he has shown, Clemens will indeed reach out.

"We'll see," he said. "I don't know. Maybe. I don't know how aware of [the record] he is.

"Put it this way: I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't hear from him. He's been out of baseball now. His kids are playing, you know. That's fine."

Wakefield last season passed Clemens for most starts by a Sox pitcher. Tuesday night was the 397th of his Boston career, 15 more than Clemens. Still ahead is the big one -- most wins by a pitcher in franchise history. Clemens and Cy Young are tied at 192 apiece. Wakefield's win Tuesday night, one in which he gave up an unearned run in the first inning and was taken deep by Shelley Duncan in the seventh, just after setting the innings record, was his 177th with the Sox, leaving him 15 behind.

The wins have been hard to come by this season. Wakefield had 11 by the All-Star break last season; this season, he has two, and was bounced from the starting rotation for two weeks, restored only because Josh Beckett has a bad back.

His last two starts were both losses, ugly ones to the Royals and Athletics in which he'd given up 20 hits and 15 runs in just 9 2/3 innings.

He was in an immediate 1-0 hole Thursday when Mike Cameron missed a shoestring catch in center, turning Shin-Soo Choo's sinking liner into a triple, and Adrian Beltre booted Jhonny Peralta's ground ball, his third error in two games here.

But the Red Sox followed a two-out dropped fly by Trevor Crowe with four straight hits in the fourth -- Kevin Youkilis RBI double, David Ortiz single, Beltre single and Bill Hall double -- to score all of their runs.

Wakefield set down 15 Indians in a row until Choo singled with two out in the sixth. A force play ended that inning, and Wakefield struck out Peralta to open the seventh, then retired Russell Branyan on a pop fly to an overshifted Marco Scutaro in right field to set the record.

The strikeout ball and the ball hit by Branyan both wound up in the Red Sox dugout for Wakefield to take home afterward. Duncan, the former Yankees prospect, followed by lining his first home run as an Indian to make it a one-run game. When Wakefield gave up a one-out double to Travis Hafner in the eighth, Francona placed the game in the hands of the bullpen, Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez both getting big outs before Daniel Bard closed out the game in the ninth.

The innings record was one to savor. A Cleveland clubhouse man removed Wakefield's nameplate from the visitors' clubhouse and replaced it with one that read, "2777," representing his innings total. He also produced a bottle of champagne and some paper cups, which Wakefield made sure ended up in the hands of, among others, manager Terry Francona and traveling secretary Jack McCormick.

The record, Wakefield agreed, will be a hard one to break.

"I think it will be," he said, "considering how special it is for me to put a uniform on for 16 years for the same team. You don't see that anymore. I'm blessed. Very blessed."

Francona praised Wakefield afterward for his tenacity. Was he tenacious, or just old?

Wakefield, who turns 44 on Aug. 2, laughed.

"I don't know," he said. "What's better?"

Maybe Rocket one day can answer that.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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