Tim Wakefield would never be quite so good again.
He debuted with the Red Sox on May 27, 1995, pitching seven innings of one-run ball in a win over the Angels. Three days later, he used his knuckler to shut out the A’s for 7 1/3 innings in a win. Five days after that, he allowed an unearned run over 10 innings in a win over the Mariners. His incredible run concluded on June 9, with a three-hitter in another win over Oakland.
Wakefield started his Red Sox career 4-0 with a 0.54 ERA. He ended up being the biggest reason the 1995 Red Sox won the AL East (the last time they’d do so until 2007), finishing 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA. None of the team’s other starters had an ERA under 4.00.
The 45-year-old Wakefield announced his retirement Friday after 19 seasons, the last 17 coming with the Red Sox. Depending on how one wants to look at it, he was the active leader in victories with 200 (Jamie Moyer, who is trying to make a comeback after missing all of 2011, does have more).
It’s true that Wakefield was never again great after 1995. He had a sub-3.00 ERA once more, but that was in a 2002 season in which he made 15 starts and 30 relief appearances. He finished his Red Sox career with a 4.43 ERA in 430 starts and 160 relief appearances. He actually had a better ERA in his two early years with the Pirates.
But Wakefield was a rock, one always willing to do what was asked. He saved 15 games for the club in 1999. That was the first of four straight years in which he never really knew his role. Restored to the rotation on a full-time basis in 2003, he went on to win 63 games over the next five seasons. His ERA was always over 4.00, but that was nothing to be ashamed of during the era. His weakest ERA+ during those years was 100, so he was always a slightly above average starter.
While Wakefield’s numbers are a testament to longevity, his durability and consistency — even with the game’s most inconsistent pitch — played a big role in the team’s ability to contend for postseason berths every year (it also helped a bit that he was always willing to take less money from the Red Sox; Wakefield never earned even $5 million in a season). Wakefield ended up third on Boston’s all-time wins list at 186 and second with 2,046 strikeouts.
Obviously, Wakefield is far from a Hall of Famer. But as a person, he rates right up there. His charity work earned him the Roberto Clemente Award from MLB in 2010.
It used to be that the Red Sox would only retire the numbers of Hall of Famers, but they broke away from that in putting Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 on the wall in 2008. Wakefield’s No. 49 should join it at some point within the next few years. 17 years of service warrants it.