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Wakefield has been with Boston since 1995

BOSTON -- Tim Wakefield agreed Tuesday to a $4 million, one-year contract extension through 2006 that gives the Boston Red Sox the ability to keep their longest-tenured player for the rest of his career.

The 38-year-old knuckleballer gave up his chance to become a free agent after this season. The Red Sox can keep renewing his contract annually at the same salary.

"It takes a lot of pressure off me to be able to know that I'm going to be here for a long time and I can just go out there and do my job," said Wakefield, who is off to a strong start in his 11th season with the Red Sox.

He is getting $4.67 million this year in the final season of a three-year contract and the 2006 salary is guaranteed as long as he doesn't finish this season on the disabled list because of an arm injury. If the Red Sox exercise their option for 2007, they get an option for 2008; if they exercise the option for 2008, they get an option for 2009. The additional options continue until the Red Sox decline one.

In each year of the deal, Wakefield would earn bonuses of $50,000 per start from 11 to 20 and $75,000 for each start after that.

General manager Theo Epstein wasn't aware of any similar contracts in baseball.

Wakefield's deal "demonstrates that both sides really wanted to keep Tim here for as long as possible," Epstein said. "A contract such as this that has a lot of club options going forward can reward Tim for his performance and reward the club by keeping him here in a Red Sox uniform."

The pitcher stressed that he wants to retire with Boston and play for as long as possible. Three knuckleballers who have helped Wakefield retired in their 40s -- Phil Niekro at 48, Charlie Hough at 46 and Joe Niekro at 42.

"His retirement is nowhere in sight," Epstein said.

If the Red Sox choose not to exercise their option at any point, Wakefield could become a free agent.

"If that situation arose, I don't know what might happen then," he said.

It's rare for a player to remain with the same team for as long as Wakefield has been with Boston.

"For me, it's the best place in the world to pitch," he said, citing the knowledgeable and passionate fans.

Epstein said Wakefield could have entertained offers if he had become a free agent "and potentially maxed out years and dollars, but that's not necessarily what was important to him."

He's the third key Red Sox player in the last two seasons to sign before going to free agency. Trot Nixon agreed to a $19.5 million, three-year deal on Feb. 6, 2004, and David Ortiz got a $12.5 million, two-year extension with a club option for 2007.

Epstein said there have been no significant negotiations with other players potentially eligible for free agency after the season, a group that includes Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Timlin and Alan Embree.

Wakefield signed with the Red Sox in 1995 after being released by Pittsburgh, where he spent two seasons before going 5-15 in the minors in 1994.

"After being released by Pittsburgh, I went home for two days. I didn't know if I was ever going to play again," Wakefield said, "and Dan Duquette called and offered me the chance to wear this uniform."

Duquette was Boston's general manager at the time, and Epstein praised Duquette on Tuesday for signing Wakefield.

The pitcher has moved back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation. He is a six-time finalist for the Roberto Clemente Award, a community service honor presented by the commissioner's office.

Wakefield is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three starts this season. He is second on the team's career list with 390 appearances, third with 1,866 innings, third with 253 starts and seventh with 116 wins. If he wins eight games this year, he will trail only Roger Clemens and Cy Young, both with 192 wins for the Red Sox.

He also has 1,343 strikeouts for the Red Sox -- ahead of Young and behind only Clemens and Pedro Martinez.

Wakefield is 116-99 with 22 saves and a 4.28 ERA for the Red Sox and 130-111 in his career after going 12-10 with a 4.87 ERA last season. He pitched one game in Boston's World Series sweep of St. Louis. The previous season, he allowed Aaron Boone's homer that won the seventh game of the AL championship series for the New York Yankees.