Watching Tim Wakefield allow seven earned runs last night without getting out of the third inning was one of the more depressing baseball experiences of my life. It wasn't simply a matter of losing the first game of the second half when we very much could have used a win, or that the game was over so soon after it started, but because it seemed entirely possible that what I was watching was the end of Tim Wakefield's career.
That is not to say that Wakefield won't pitch again. The Red Sox won't have Beckett or Buchholz back soon enough to avoid giving Wake another go on the mound. But it's hard to imagine even a perfect game would be enough to keep Wakefield on the team for much longer when the division race is so tight. Wakefield is currently having the worst season of his career relatively speaking, with a 79 ERA+. Usually, the greatness of Tim Wakefield's deal is that he goes out there, eats innings, is slightly better than league average, and is cheap. Eliminate any one of those elements, though, and the roster spot starts becoming a prohibitive cost.
Even in long relief there are better options. Scott Atchison has showed a few times this year that he's more than capable of going three innings without blowing the game wide open. The last thing you need out of a long man is to have to choose in a relatively close game between preserving the pen and preserving your chance to win, as might be the case with Wakefield on any given night or, indeed, in any given inning.
So if this is, indeed, the end of Tim Wakefield's career in Boston, where does that leave him? Third in wins, second in games, first in starts, first in innings pitched, second in strikeouts, and perhaps most importantly, first in loyalty. Despite never being one of the best pitchers on any particular team, he has entered the ranks of the Red Sox greats. He may never have his number retired, but I expect it will be a long time before someone sees fit to wear #49 again.
Perhaps my eulogy for Tim Wakefield is premature or presumptuous. For years, he's been the guy who could, would, and did for the Red Sox. Picking up the ball when he wasn't expected to be able to (he is, after all, a failed shortstop), others wouldn't, and perhaps in some cases he even shouldn't have. There aren't that many other players, after all, who can make even failure seem both heroic and, in its own way, great. Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS? Game 4 of the 2007 World Series? I would not be the first person to incorrectly count Wakefield out. But if Wake is finally done, it's the end of a long and successful career, and the end of an era in Boston.