Aaron Bleepin’ Boone

I was somewhere over the Mediterranean when Aaron Boone hit his home run off Wake to win the 2003 ALCS and send the Red Sox home early from the post season. Another year of what might have been. Truth be told I wouldn’t have been watching anyway. I was redeploying from Iraq that day, and after watching Pedro strike out Alfonso Soriano to end the seventh inning with the Sox still up 4-2, I went to check on my flight home.

Ortiz added a home run off of David Wells in the top of the eighth to make it 5-2. We were in great shape. Between Timlin and Embree the ’03 Sox bullpen was lights out. This was going to be THE YEAR. Enter Grady Little.

When I returned from getting my flight update, Pedro was inexplicably still on the mound for the bottom of the eighth and Jeter was on second base after a one-out double. Bernie Williams singled. Jeter scored. I dropped a number of f-bombs and left. Not because my plane was leaving. I left because I knew, deep down we all knew, how this game was going to end.

For those too young to remember a time before Aaron Boone was ruining baseball games in the ESPN broadcast booth, I’ll summarize. New York scored three in the bottom of the eighthnn to tie it and Aaron Bleepin’ Boone sent a Tim Wakefield knuckler into the second deck in left field to send NY back to the World Series.

He’s no Bill Buckner

Walking off the mound at Yankee Stadium, having surrendered the series losing home run, Wake admitted that he was terrified that he would no longer be welcome in Boston. After all, the last Red Sox goat – Bill Buckner – had been run out of town after contributing to the collapse in the 1986 World Series against the Mets. But Wake was no Billy Buck.

Wakefield had been with the Sox for nine seasons and won 102 games for Boston by then. He’d thrown 14 great innings of relief and won two games in that ALCS. He was a legitimate candidate for series MVP. Had they won.

Boston forgave Wake. We had Grady Little to hate.

Our Ironman

Wakefield pitched 17 seasons in Boston, winning 186 games for the hometown team and 200 for his career. He did everything anyone could have asked. He averaged 200 innings a season for his 19-year career. He started. He did long relief. He closed. Sometimes all in the same season.

In 1999, the Red Sox used Wakefield, a knuckleballer who’s every pitch was an adventure for the catcher and a home run waiting to happen for the hitter, to close. In addition to staring 17 games that year, he saved 15.

Wake was selfless. In game three of the 2004 ALCS, when Boston was getting pummeled by New York and on the verge of going down 0-3 in the series, Wake asked for the ball so Franconia could save the bullpen. He entered the game in the third inning, already down 10-0. He took his lumps for 3.1 innings and gave the Sox a chance in game four.

He came out of the bullpen in game five and threw three innings of one-hit ball in extra innings in an elimination game. And won. For those who didn’t live through the 2004 ALCS, it is difficult to describe the intensity. For Wake, who walked off the mound a loser last year, to pitch so many clutch innings in against the same opponent in the same elimination situation the following year, his performance was nothing short of incredible.

Happy Anniversary Timmy

Today, September 13th, marks the sixth anniversary since Wake won his 200th career game. It’s not a major sports event, in fact I only remembered this morning when Facebook reminded me that I was there. I’m glad I was. Tim Wakefield really represents the great unsung Red Sox that are too often overlooked. He won’t ever be enshrined in Cooperstown, but he is exactly the kind of player that this franchise should celebrate.