BOSTON — As each chance at 200 wins came and went, Tim Wakefield maintained a single mindset. If it doesn't come, it doesn't come. But if it does, he hoped it would help the Red Sox make the playoffs.
We have no clue what the final two weeks of games will hold, but there may be a day in the near future when we look back on Tuesday night at Fenway Park as a big one in helping Boston cement a postseason berth. The 18-6 rout over the Toronto Blue Jays ended a five-game losing streak, increased Boston's lead in the wild card to four games and washed away the bitterness over a horrendous road trip that left that playoff berth in doubt.
And on the mound in a winning effort, the 200th of his career, was good old Tim Wakefield.
The timing was perfect.
"Yeah, that's been the main philosophy over the last eight tries that I've tried to do this is take myself out of the situation and trying to pitch us into the postseason," Wakefield said. "That's been since August that our philosophy as a team has been and that's win games and win a lot and try to get to the postseason again. Tonight was a huge step in that direction based on how we played the last week on the road.
"It's tough. [Jason Varitek] and I have been here and David [Ortiz]. Tek's been here almost as long as I have and it's a special thing to get into postseason, and a lot of guys are starting to realize it's not that easy to get there and takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Hopefully tonight's win will give us some momentum going that way."
If positive vibes mean anything in that regard, it's almost a certainty that the team will get going in the right direction now. Although there may be a fan or two out there who tired of Wakefield's pursuit of 200, none were among the 38,020 at Fenway Park on Tuesday, and they let their voice be heard.
The first major roar of the night came when Wakefield stranded two runners in scoring position in the top of the fifth, preserving a 6-5 lead and officially qualifying for the win. An even louder one came when he motored through a 1-2-3 sixth on just nine pitches.
Then, after the bats broke out for several more runs in the club's best offensive showing of the season, and it became evident that the milestone was in Wakefield's grasp, his name, a name synonymous with all that's been good in the organization for nearly two decades, began to pour from the mouths of those in attendance.
Chants of "Wake-field, Wake-field" were heard throughout the final inning and several more times after the final out as fans waited for the knuckleballer to return to the field. It took a few minutes, for Wakefield first had to get a hug from every member of the team in the clubhouse, which would soon become the scene of a champagne bath for the 45-year-old.
Terry Francona described the whole scene as something that would only happen in a place like Boston. Wakefield knows this as well as anyone.
"I've always said I've been grateful to wear this uniform as long as I have and been very fortunate to live out a dream I had as a kid," Wakefield added. "I'm just grateful it happened tonight and very grateful it happened in front of our home crowd. The standing ovation I got when I walked off the mound in the fifth and six and to be able to go back out after the game was over and share it with the people that were here was very special."
Wakefield said that as the 200th win remained elusive he had to remind himself that it wasn't the only thing that mattered. He knew that getting one more victory would not define him as a person.
What does define him is evident in that outpouring of appreciation from the fans and his teammates, his commitment to the community perhaps unmatched among Red Sox players past or present, his devotion to his wife and two kids (Wakefield's family was not at the park, but he made sure to see his kids off to school Monday) and, to those that have gone to battle with him, his willingness to do what it takes to help the team.
"That is as significant," Francona said. "You look back on '04, when he went out to the bullpen [in the playoffs]. That's something that's probably as special to me as anything. I think that signifies what Wake means. Obviously you've got to have a ton of talent to get 200 wins, but those other things are probably what sticks with us. I think he's been around here long enough that people appreciate that, as they should, but those are things that are very meaningful."
Dustin Pedroia, whose two home runs and five RBIs were the catalyst in the offensive attack, echoed that sentiment.
"I've played five years with Wake and he goes out there every time and gives you everything he’s got. It doesn't matter," Pedroia said. "I remember one time we were at Toronto and he gave up six runs in the first inning and went eight. That just shows what kind of guy he is, what kind of teammate he is. He'll take the ball anytime, and you appreciate that."
Wakefield's ability to keep taking the ball over and over has been a boon for a rotation in disarray. In fact, he became the first Red Sox starter to last more than five innings in a full week. His line Tuesday — six innings, six hits, five runs, two walks, six strikeouts — is not the greatest of his career, but it didn't need to be. It offered up something this club has been given so rarely of late — a chance to win.
And when they finally did, not one but two weights were lifted from their collective shoulders. No longer did anyone have to wonder if Wakefield would get to 200 wins. And no longer was anyone concerned that the negativity of the road trip would linger.
As has been the case many times since he joined the team in 1995, Wakefield provided the boost.
"It was a good night," Francona said. "We needed to win and it was probably appropriate that it was Wake."