Monday night was yet another masterpiece in the knuckleballer's collection. Wakefield limited the Devil Rays to two hits over eight shutout innings as the Red Sox held off the visitors, 3-0, at Fenway Park.
Julio Lugo was the offensive star, with three hits, including an RBI single. Jonathan Papelbon made history when he recorded the save with a scoreless ninth, becoming the first Red Sox pitcher with at least 28 saves in consecutive seasons.
But the night belonged to Wakefield, who improved to 9-3 in his last 12 starts.
Thanks to some stellar defense from Eric Hinske and Mike Lowell, Wakefield held the Devil Rays hitless through six innings, retiring the first nine batters he faced.
Hinske made a running grab of Akinori Iwamura's liner to right to begin the game, and Lowell made a nice backhanded stab of a sharp Brendan Harris grounder in the fifth, throwing out the Tampa Bay second baseman by a step.
"Tip your hat to our guys," a grateful Wakefield said. "Great defense. Mikey Lowell made a good play. Lugo made some great plays out there today. And our offense did a great job scoring enough runs to bring in Pap to close it up."
Wakefield's only hiccups were walks to Iwamura leading off the fourth and a one-out base on balls to Dioner Navarro in the sixth.
"He came out of the bullpen with a good one [knuckleball] and took it right to the game, and not only did he have his good knuckleball, but he located his fastball when he wanted to and threw some real good breaking balls," manager Terry Francona said.
Wakefield's catcher, Doug Mirabelli, agreed.
"He had a good bullpen [session] going into the game," Mirabelli said. "The ball was just coming out of his hand cleanly in the bullpen, and it had a lot of life down there. Then, after that first inning, it was just dancing all over the place. I felt if we were able to give him a couple of runs, we were going to win this game."
But Wakefield's path toward pitching immortality quickly came to an end in the seventh, when Carl Crawford lined a clean single between Kevin Youkilis and Alex Cora into right field for Tampa Bay's first hit of the night.
"It was a knuckleball," Crawford said. "I just tried to stay back as long as I can. I don't try to do the normal professional swing, because I don't think that works."
"I really didn't even know until the standing ovation occurred," Youkilis said of the Fenway crowd's response after Tampa Bay's first hit. "I didn't even peek at all."
It was on June 19, 2001, when Wakefield went even farther against the same team, taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning at Tampa Bay. That night, Wakefield led, 5-0, heading into the final frame before hanging on for a 5-4 win.
On Monday night, Wakefield had a similar feel midway through the game.
"Probably after five, I knew [about the no-hitter]," Wakefield said. "Again, it's such a close ballgame and you're just trying to keep runners off base, especially the top three guys in the lineup, who can really run really, really well. Dougie and I were on the same page together, mixing some good pitches in when we needed to."
Wakefield (14-10) improved to 18-2 lifetime against Tampa Bay and has earned a decision in all 24 starts this season, the most since Jack McDowell of the White Sox posted decisions in his first 27 starts of 1993.
"I had my 'A' stuff in Anaheim [on Tuesday], just things didn't go the right way," Wakefield said. "I gave up the wrong hits at the wrong time, and considering the circumstances, the way [Rays starter James] Shields has been pitching this year, you really gotta go out there and go get them, especially with the speed they have."
Shields (9-8) nearly matched Wakefield where it counted, allowing only an RBI double to David Ortiz in the first. Lugo slid safely home when Navarro could not handle the short-hop relay from Josh Wilson.
Shields allowed just the one run on five hits, retiring the last eight batters he faced after a one-out single by Lowell in the fourth.
Featuring mostly a fastball that reached 97 mph several times, Papelbon came on to relieve Wakefield to begin the ninth. He blew away Iwamura and Crawford with strikeouts before walking B.J. Upton. Carlos Pena grounded out to second to seal the closer's 28th save in 30 chances.
But most of the talk afterward was how Wakefield continues to find ways to baffle hitters, getting better with age.
"He's a good pitcher," Francona said of his 41-year-old starter. "He works hard. He's gotten to that point in his career where you have to probably work harder than you ever have in your life to maintain what you've done, and in Wake's case, do better. This guy has been a blessing for us. I think it goes under the radar sometimes because of the way he pitches. I hope it doesn't. It's a phenomenal outing, and he's been phenomenal, and he's not done."
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.