- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Unlike his signature knuckleball, which flutters and often takes an unpredictable route to its destination, Tim Wakefield was direct, decisive and one might even say disgusted.
Wakefield started and pitched seven solid innings in place of the injured Josh Beckett on Wednesday, acing his role as a fill-in while picking up his 2,000th career strikeout.
He was happy with the performance. He's just not happy with the role.
"It's been very difficult. It's a situation I don't want to be in, I'm not happy about it, but it is what it is," Wakefield said, his arms folded across his chest following the Red Sox' 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. "You have to deal with it."
It was the Blue Jays, minus Travis Snider, who had trouble dealing with Wakefield on Wednesday, his dancing knuckler limiting Toronto to five hits and three earned runs. He struck out five and walked one, lowering his ERA to 5.63.
Had the Red Sox's offense produced anything against impressive right-hander Shaun Marcum, the 43-year-old Wakefield would have picked up his first win of the season. Instead, he drops to 0-2 and is left wondering if he'll start again next week or head back to the bullpen.
That decision seems tied to how quickly Beckett recovers from his lower back spasms. Wakefield, who had made three relief appearances since his previous start April 25, doesn't like the uncertainty but said he deals with it "day to day."
This day was about as good as the Red Sox could ask for from Wakefield, who earned his milestone 2,000th career strikeout when he got Vernon Wells swinging to end the top of the fourth inning on -- what else? -- a knuckleball.
"I'm very proud of that," he said of joining Jamie Moyer, Javier Vazquez and Andy Pettitte as the lone active pitchers to record 2,000 career strikeouts. "It's a tribute to longevity. I feel very blessed I've been able to wear this uniform I've been wearing for a long time."
The crowd cheered as Wakefield returned to the dugout. Wakefield said he was aware he had reached 2,000, and he emerged from the first-base dugout to tip his cap, acknowledging the ovation.
"It's phenomenal," he said of the crowd's reaction. "The fans have been behind me the whole time I've been here. They acknowledge great work. I'm honored to be able to tip my cap."
Working with a small margin for error, Wakefield ran into his first real trouble Wednesday in the fifth inning when Lyle Overbay led off with a ground-rule double to center. Snider, who would later deliver the game's decisive blow, stroked a one-out double through the hole at second base to give the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead.
In the seventh, Wakefield faced Snider again after walking Jose Bautista with one out. Snider, who switched to a bigger 35-inch bat following his first at-bat in which he grounded out, delivered a knuckleball into the Blue Jays' bullpen.
"I made one mistake to Snider, and it cost us the game," Wakefield said.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona didn't necessarily see it as a mistake, just Snider reaching down on a good pitch. Snider agreed.
"You're looking at a 65-mph pitch that is bouncing around. Tim has a great knuckleball, and I couldn't tell you how I hit it," Snider said. "It just happens. You just swing and hope you barrel it. Today was one of those days."
Despite his strong performance, Wakefield is winless in his past nine starts dating to Aug. 26, 2009. He's been credited with three quality starts this season, already matching his total of quality starts without a win from all of 2009.
"He had a good knuckleball and he threw strikes," Francona said. "He was quick to the plate and kept the game in check. If we're scoring, that's a really good outing."
Wakefield threw 102 pitches, 64 for strikes, and Francona said that because of the workload he wouldn't be available in the bullpen for at least the next two days regardless of the team's rotation plans.
Should Beckett not be ready to return by Tuesday in New York, it seems likely that Wakefield would get another start.
"As much as we want Beckett in there, we don't feel the need to rush because we do know we have a professional pitcher who can go out and hopefully win a game for us," Francona said.
4hAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com