Wakefield off to blistering start

Wakefield off to blistering start

American League opponents have been waiting patiently for Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield to revert back from 2007 Cy Young Award contender to the picture of above-average durability.

But what if it doesn't happen?

Boston's 40-year-old has had great seasons before, most recently in 2002, when in 163 1/3 innings for the Red Sox, he registered a 2.81 ERA. His knuckler has been biting harder in the early going of 2007, holding hitters to a .189 opponents' batting average.

Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm, the only knuckleball pitchers currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame, each pitched into his late 40s before experiencing a drop-off in production. Wilhelm, in fact, entered his peak years as a 40-something reliever for the Chicago White Sox in 1963, posting more sub-2.00 ERAs after his 40th birthday (five) than before (one).

Wakefield's stellar ERA drop, from 4.63 last year to an AL-leading 1.79 in 45 1/3 innings this year, has not been accompanied by a corresponding rise in strikeouts; on balls in play, the Red Sox have merely done a better job converting batted balls to outs.

Will Wakefield keep his magical run going no Tuesday against Detroit, the Majors' third-best run-scoring team? And will Boston's red-hot offense lend him enough support against 24-year-old Tigers phenom Justin Verlander to earn Wakefield's fifth win of the season?

Fans will find out soon enough.

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Tim Wakefield (4-3, 1.79 ERA)
Wakefield has fared slightly worse against the Tigers than his career 4.25 ERA, going 13-9 with a 4.41 ERA in 143 career innings.

DET: RHP Justin Verlander (3-1, 2.83 ERA)
The Tigers' de facto ace, with fellow young star Jeremy Bonderman troubled by blisters on his pitching hand, Verlander has shown no signs of an impending sophomore slump in 2007. In a 2006 season in which he led one of baseball's best pitching staffs to the playoffs and, eventually, the World Series, Verlander struggled in his only appearance against Boston, allowing five runs in six innings.

Player to watch
Designated hitter David Ortiz hit a home run off Verlander in an Aug. 16 game at Fenway Park last year.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO 680 AM, WROL 950 AM (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Julian Tavarez, 1-4, 6.60) vs. Tigers (Mike Maroth, 3-0, 4.69), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (Curt Schilling, 4-1, 3.63) vs. Tigers (Chad Durbin, 3-1, 5.08), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Friday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 7-0, 2.66) vs. Braves (Anthony Lerew, 0-1, 6.52), 7:05 p.m. ET

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.