For a man at 44 years of age, Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield is still going strong.  Since his major league debut in 1992, the knuckleball throwing righty has made his mark on the game, winning a pair of World Series rings in 2004 and 2007.   But in this town it may be the ring he didn’t win that people most remember. 

As the story goes, Wakefield was called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the summer of 92 from AAA Buffalo.  All he did in his 1st start was throw 146 pitches, striking out 10 St. Louis Cardinal batter en route to a shutout win.  He would go 8-1 during the 2nd half of 92, leading the Pirates to a 3rd NL East crown. 

I think you know the rest of the story.

The magic that he had in his knuckleball didn’t quite come with him in 1993, as Wakefield went 6-11 over 20 starts, registering a 5.61 ERA, nearly three and a half points higher from the previous year.

He was released by the Pirates and six days later the Sox claimed him off waivers.  It would be another 6,477 days before he would return to pitch in the city he began his career in. 

On Saturday night in front of the largest crowd in PNC Park history, Wakefield return to a pitching mound in Pittsburgh.  He was staked an early 2-0 lead before a Lyle Overbay 3-run homer put the Pirates ahead in the 4th inning, eventually leading the home team to a 6-4 win in front of 39,483 raucous fans.  After the game, Wakefield talked about his return to Pittsburgh. 

“It was obviously in the back of my mind, because I came here in ’03,” said Wakefield.  “But it’s just another opponent to me.  I’ve got to go about my business and help us win.  I got introduced as the starting pitcher and got a huge round of applause and I’m very grateful for that.”

His pitching line looked a little different from the last one he put up when starting a game here in Pittsburgh.  Against the Philadelphia Phillies back on September 30th, 1993, Wakefield tossed 9 innings, giving up just four hits in a complete game shutout victory. 

On Saturday, he went just six innings, giving up seven hits,  five runs, all earned while walking four en route to his 3rd loss of 2011. 

“It didn’t have any bite at the end.” said Wakefield of his knuckleball on Saturday.  “I don’t know how to explain it to you.  It didn’t have any light life to it.  It kinda just stayed in the strike zone.  I felt great except for the 4th inning and it cost us the ballgame.”

Overbay’s blast in the fourth came on a 3-2 count with one out.  Having spent time with the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League, the Bucco 1st baseman was familiar with Wakefield’s pitching style and what he might face. 

“Usually, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2 he usually throws a fast ball and he threw me a fast ball at 3-1 and with runners in scoring position,” Overbay said of Wakefield  “The knuckleball just didn’t do his normal, it kinda just hung there.  I was just experienced, kinda knowing just being able to face him that many times knowing what that’s going to do.”

Even after Saturday’s loss, Wakefield discussed his time spent in Pittsburgh.

“It’s still a blur because I was so young,’ Wakefield recalled of his time in a Pirate uniform.  “I was just trying to fit in at that point of my career.  I have a lot of great memories of going to the post-season that year and playing Atlanta and coming up short in game seven. The way I was embraced here by the fans of this city, I’m very grateful.”

And of that fateful game seven loss to the Braves.  When asked if he could have given the team one more inning of pitching in the bottom of the 9th after two complete game wins, Wakefield didn’t waver in his response. 

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he said softly.  “It was never discussed, but If you look back at that series, Doug Drabek pitched a phenomenal game seven.  It was just one of those things where we got beat.”

Please don’t remind us. 

John Phillips is the author of this article and a last-minute addition to the upcoming NFL supplemental draft.  When he’s not trying to improve his 40 time, JP can be heard hosting weekend talk-show’s and anchoring sports updates on 93.7 The Fan. 

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