Time Wakefield & the Greatest Worst Outing in Red Sox History
With the Boston Red Sox trying to stave off elimination against the Houston Astros, most Red Sox fans are asking the same question, “why not?” Why not think the Red Sox can rip off three straight to upset the Astros? It is the same question they asked back in 2004 when the Red Sox miraculously came back from a 0-3 deficit against the New York Yankees. Everyone remembers the Kevin Millar walk. Everybody remembers the Dave Roberts steal, the Billy Mueller bloop, the Ortiz jack, the Ortiz bloop, the Bloody Sock, the Johnny Damon grand slam, and even Derek Lowe’s studly game seven on short rest. But before any of that happened, the Red Sox got shallacked in Game Three: 19-8. Few remember the man that took the brunt of that on the chin; Tim Wakefield. In honor of the Sox attempting yet another against-all-odds comeback, let us dive back into history to the game and man that set up the greatest comeback in sport’s history; Tim Wakefield and the greatest worst outing of all-time.
Tim Wakefield did everything in his career for the Red Sox: he started (430 games), he relieved (160), and he even closed out games (22). He amassed more than 3,000 innings for the Red Sox and finished third all-time in wins (186), a scant six behind both Cy Young and Roger Clemens (not bad company). If he was not so unselfish, Tim Wakefield would be the all-time wins leader in Red Sox history, and it is that type of self-sacrifice that led to the greatest worst outing of all-time.
Whatever the Red Sox wanted, nay, needed, Tim Wakefield to do, all they had to do was ask and he would jog out to the mound and popped that 67 mph knuckleballs to Doug Mirabelli and hope for the best. With the Red Sox down 2-0 in the 2004 ACLS the Red Sox needed to win. Nobody had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in major sports history. A loss that night and the Red Sox would be doomed. Terry Francona trotted out Bronson Arroyo (5-0 in his previous nine starts)… and Arroyo got buried for six runs in two-plus innings of work. The Red Sox though battled back to tie the game at 6-6 in the bottom of the third inning… and then it all fell apart starting in the fourth. The Yankees would proceed to beat the brakes off of the Sox after the third inning, eventually winning 19-8 to take a 3-0 series lead.
Wakefield Gonna Wake
Before we get to what transpired starting with the fourth inning, a quick look back at how Wakefield was perceived in 2004. Wakefield had had a very Wakefield-esque 2004: 12-10 record, a 4.87 ERA in 188.1 IP, 116 strikeouts, 63 walks and 16 hit batsmen. Not the best numbers in the world, but also not the worst. Just… Wakefield numbers. You knew you were getting at least six innings and probably three to five runs. The previous post-season Wakefield was nails and maybe the best pitcher on the staff in the 2003 playoffs. However, nobody remembers that because they only remember … well… this
But heading into that Game Three against the Yankees, Wakefield was not expected to pitch because he was slotted as the Game Four starter. But nobody expected Bronson Arroyo to get spanked. Nobody expected Ramiro Mendoza and Curtis Leskanic to get shelled for four runs in 1.1 innings (Leskanic giving up three of those runs while collecting just a single out). With the Yankees up 9-6 and the bullpen reeling, and any chance of a Red Sox series comeback reliant on not over-taxing the back-end guys (Mike Timlin, Alan Embree and Keith Foulke), Wakefield went up to Terry Francona and asked if he needed him in the game. Francona realized exactly what Wakefield was saying, “do you need me to be a sacrificial lamb?” Tito’s response was, “ask Derek Lowe if he can start the next game?” Wake went up to Derek Lowe and Lowe’s response was simple, “yeah.”
So Wakefield literally grabbed his spikes, ran out to the bullpen and then entered the game to be slaughtered. Wakefield was not good that night. In fact it was one of his worst post-season outings ever. He gave up five runs in 3.1 innings. He struck out just a single Yankee while walking a pair. Embree took over for Wakefield with two outs in the seventh and he too got molly-whooped. By the time he recorded the final out of the seventh inning the Red Sox were down 17-6. Jason Varitek would hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the frame, but the Yankees added a pair of their own in the ninth for the final 19-8 score. There would be no comeback in Game Three.
But when you look at the box score from that game and check out how many Red Sox pitchers were used, you will notice the answer is six. Three in the first three innings, but only three others. Wakefield’s line stands out. In a game where the starter went just two innings, Wakefield (not expected to pitch AT ALL in Game Three) recorded four more outs than Arroyo and did so for the sole purpose of saving the rest of the pitching staff and rest of the team. For every two outs he recorded that night, Wakefield would give up a run. His ERA on the night was an ugly 14.54. Five runs, five earned, on five hits. But he faced 17 batters and recored four more outs than any other pitcher that night. His 43 strikes on 64 pitches are mostly forgotten to history, but what the Red Sox did in Games Four, Five, Six and Seven are absolutely not.
Not many times in baseball can you look at a pitcher with a 14.54 night and go, “that guy may have saved the team and the season.” But not many people looked at Tim Wakefield and thought, “he will go down as one of the most successful pitchers in Red Sox history.” Not many people said, “the Red Sox can come back from this 3-0 hole.” But not many people expected the longest tenured Red Sox pitcher to assume a role he was not supposed to play. He went out of his way to say, “don’t worry boys, we’ll get them tomorrow. I’ll wear it tonight.”
He gave up a chance at post-season redemption to get slaughtered. It ended up being the greatest worst outing in Red Sox history. How many people would willingly put themselves in that situation? The answer; just one. What makes it more remarkable is that it was something that was not supposed to happen… just like coming back from a 3-0 deficit was not supposed to happen. So while Red Sox fans in New England hope for another unthinkable comeback on the strength of a surprise relief appearance (David Price’s four scoreless innings), make sure to remember Tim Wakefield and his unselfish acts, and and tip your hats and raise a toast to the greatest worst outing of all-time.