This was a special night for Tim Wakefield, one in which he set a Red Sox record for most innings pitched, surpassing former teammate Roger Clemens. Not only that, but Wakefield was brilliant in leading his team to a 3-2 victory over the Indians.
When Wakefield retired Russell Branyan on a popup to shortstop for the second out of the seventh inning, he didn't think much of it at the time when catcher Victor Martinez asked him to throw the ball back to the dugout. But that was the record-setter that put him at 2,776 1/3 innings pitched, passing the Rocket.
After the game, he was able to soak it all in with the help of his team.
"Now that I know what's going on, it's very special," said Wakefield. "I had no idea. Victor asked me to throw the ball back. I had no idea that I had surpassed Roger Clemens' all-time for innings, but more importantly, we got a win tonight, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going into the next two games."
Wakefield now has 191 career wins, 177 of those coming for Boston. He is 15 victories away from tying Clemens and Cy Young for the club's all-time record.
"It's kind of neat, on a night where he sets a record, it's a nice way to do it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Either way, we're obviously going to be proud of what he accomplished. When he gets the win, that makes it a lot better."
It was particularly gratifying for the 43-year-old Wakefield to pitch well in this one, because he had struggled in his past two starts.
Over 7 1/3 innings, he gave up four hits and two runs -- one earned -- walking none and striking out six.
"I really need to thank [pitching coach] John Farrell for getting my rhythm and my timing back," Wakefield said. "It was just some little mechanical things that got me back on track and I really felt very comfortable out there today, and obviously the results showed that."
The Boston bullpen, working without Jonathan Papelbon (family medical emergency) and Manny Delcarmen (back stiffness) was able to stave off Cleveland for the final five outs.
Knuckling into history
|Cy Young||2,728 1/3|
|Luis Tiant||1,774 2/3|
One batter after breaking his record, Wakefield gave up his only earned run of the night, a solo homer off the bat of Shelley Duncan that nipped Boston's lead to 3-2.
But Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez navigated their way through the eighth. Daniel Bard, who will likely be a closer some day, came on in the ninth to pin down the save.
"We're just trying to pick up the slack [for Papelbon]," said Bard. "We wish him the best, him and his family. Fortunately, we've come out with two wins. Hopefully we can keep doing it."
The difference between pitching the eighth and the ninth?
"Not a whole lot different," Bard said. "The game is on the line, but it's on the line in the seventh and eighth, too. Once swing of the bat can end it. Every pitch matters. I'm not treating it too much different. There's a lot on the line either way."
Wakefield didn't get much in the way of offense in this one, but the Red Sox did give him a three-spot in the fourth, thanks mainly to a gift from the Indians. With two outs and nobody on, Victor Martinez hit a fly ball to center that should have ended the inning. Instead, Trevor Crowe dropped the ball and Martinez reached second.
"I was really surprised," said Martinez. "He's a pretty good outfielder and pretty quick. He can get to any ball. I was really surprised that he dropped it."
Kevin Youkilis belted an RBI double high off the wall in left to tie the game at 1. David Ortiz lined a single into right, scoring Youkilis. Bill Hall cranked an RBI double and the Sox had a 3-1 lead. All of the runs in the inning were unearned.
"We took advantage of it," said Francona. "If nobody gets hits there, it's like, 'OK, it happened' and you move on. We strung together hits and had real good swings, so good for us. You catch a break, you have to be good enough to take advantage of it."
Though the Indians didn't do much against Wakefield, they did strike for a run in the first. Shin-Soo Choo ripped a liner to center that Mike Cameron dove for but couldn't get. It rolled all the way to the wall for a one-out triple. With two outs, Jhonny Peralta reached on an error by third baseman Adrian Beltre, and Cleveland had a 1-0 lead.
"It wasn't enjoyable, I can say that," rookie Jason Donald said of facing Wakefield. "It just floats. It looks like it doesn't get to you. It's just weird seeing it."
Overall, the night belonged to the knuckleballer.
"He pumped a lot of strikes," Francona said. "He used the fastball at times, he used the breaking ball at times. He just stayed in the strike zone. He gave up the first run on a ball that Cam dived for. And then we don't execute on a ground ball. And then after that, he was nails."
Which is what Wakefield has been through much of his time in a Boston uniform, which started way back in 1995.
"It's fortune and a testament to his durability over time," said Red Sox captain Jason Varitek. "He's brought a uniqueness to an organization for an extremely long period of time and has done a great job doing so."
"He helped me out a lot teaching me when I was a rookie the way to go about things," said Youkilis. "He does a good job of that. You have to tip your cap to him."
For Wakefield, the cap he has been able to tip over the years has meant a lot.
"Like I've said many, many times before, I feel very blessed to be able to wear this uniform for as long as I have," Wakefield said. "I think it's a sign of longevity, dealing with adversity, the ups and downs, having an organization that believes in me, and it's kept me here for as long as I've been here. It's a tribute to just never giving up."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.