Comeback makes Wakefield a winner

Comeback makes Wakefield a winner

ARLINGTON -- As Boston's victories mount and the New York Yankees fall further behind, there is a temptation to start flipping the calendar forward. To start enumerating unhatched poultry, as it were.

But even with an 11 1/2-game lead over the Yankees before Memorial Day, such an urge has not yet overcome Boston manager Terry Francona.

"If they're going to start paying bonuses and handing out rings [for leading in late May], then I'll have a great quote for you," Francona said after Saturday's 7-4 comeback over the Texas Rangers.

Francona's point is well taken. History has shown the baseball gods have a way of noticing and responding to hubris.

But as the Red Sox chalked up yet another series victory -- they will go for their first three-game sweep in Texas since 1973 on Sunday -- the positive numbers spawned by Francona's club continue to dazzle:

• At 33-15, the Sox have the best record in baseball and the largest lead of any division leader. Toronto slipped past the Yankees into second place Saturday, but the Blue Jays trail by 11 games with only 48 having been played.

• The 11-game lead is the largest of the season for the Sox. Not since the 2000 Mariners has a team led by 11 games so early in a season, and that Seattle club finished with 91 wins and a playoff berth.

• No Boston team has ever led by so many games by this date. The 1946 Red Sox took an 11-game lead on July 14. The earliest a Red Sox team led by more than 11 games was an 11 1/2-game edge by the 1995 team on Aug. 20 (106 games into the season).

In other words, the way the Red Sox are running away with the American League East thus far is without precedent. Is it even possible for the players not to notice?

"I'm not going to lie. I look at the standings," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "But I look at them all around the big leagues, because I'm a fan of baseball."

But how is the club not struck by achieving a lead in late May normally not seen until late August or September?

"I think we're doing a really good job of not getting carried away with numbers and playing our game," Lowell said. "I think we've proven to ourselves that if we just concentrate on our games, the standings will take care of themselves. We're doing a good job of just concentrating on what we have to do, and then executing it."

The Sox did so again Saturday, as Tim Wakefield won for the first time in three starts, Kevin Youkilis extended his hitting streak to 18 games, and Manny Ramirez fell a home run shy of hitting for the cycle. It almost seemed as if the Sox toyed with the Rangers before overtaking them again before 37,974 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Wakefield bedeviled Texas (18-31) for seven innings, allowing four runs on five hits and staying in control for all but a three-run fifth. With that inning, the Rangers turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead, but the Red Sox never let them enjoy it. A single by Youkilis in the top of the next inning sparked a five-run sixth that put the Red Sox ahead to stay.

"They score, we come right back. That's a good way to play the game," Francona said for the second night in a row. "We didn't let them get comfortable."

Boston's ability to score first and to counterpunch immediately when scored upon bode well for a long and successful autumn.

"I don't think we get rattled," Francona said. "We've had a good tendency to score early and to come back fast after falling behind. And those are good traits to have."

The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the second when Marlon Byrd singled home Sammy Sosa. But the Sox answered with two in the fourth as the Rangers botched a double-play ball. Shortstop Michael Young's relay throw glanced off the glove of starting pitcher Vicente Padilla into the Texas dugout.

Texas regained the lead with a disputed three-run fifth. The rally began when Frank Catalanotto took a knuckleball off his right forearm. Francona protested that the Rangers hitter leaned into the pitch deliberately, but to no avail.

After a one-out single by Ian Kinsler, Gerald Laird pulled a double down the third-base line. The bouncing ball caromed off a Rangers ballgirl seated on a stool, but umpires ruled the ball was still live as two runs scored. Ramon Vazquez singled Laird to third and a sacrifice fly by Kenny Lofton put the Rangers ahead, 4-2.

But Padilla opened the sixth by allowing Youkilis' single and a one-out triple by Ramirez, his first of the year. A wild pitch sent Ramirez home with the tying run, then Padilla walked J.D. Drew, who was hitless in his last 16 at-bats.

Lowell singled to send Padilla to the showers, and Coco Crisp followed with a single off reliever Joaquin Benoit that scored Drew for a 5-4 lead. The Sox never trailed again, but added two more runs on a sacrifice fly by Alex Cora and a bases-loaded walk drawn by Youkilis.

It was more than enough to give Wakefield (5-5) just his second win in Arlington since 2004. He is 2-4 with a 5.40 ERA in his last six starts in Texas.

"I can't remember the last time I won here," Wakefield said. "I've pitched well, better than I did tonight, and still took a loss. But tonight, I was throwing strikes, getting early swings and was able to minimize as much damage as I could.

"Unfortunately, I gave up those three runs in the fifth, but our offense answered quickly."

And in what is becoming typical fashion for the team dominating the Major League standings nearly one-third of the way through the season, even if many in the clubhouse don't want to notice.

"We've got to continue to win series and not worry about where everybody else is," Wakefield said. "I think we've been playing really good baseball."

Many have noticed.

Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.