Since 1995, there has been one consistent presence in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse: pitcher Tim Wakefield, who currently stands as the longest tenured player in the organization. Oddly enough, he might never have seen a big league diamond if it weren’t for his ability to throw the knuckleball, a pitch that has almost no spin in flight, which causes it to float erratically from the pitcher’s hand into the catcher’s mitt. Drafted as an infielder by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1988, a scout pulled him aside and told him that he didn’t have what it took to be a positional player above Double-A ball. Determined to play in the majors, Wakefield eventually punched his ticket as a mound jockey, pitching the ball in the same manner as Hall-of-Fame pitchers Hoyt Wilhelm, Phil Niekro, and Jesse Haines. After enjoying moderate success with the Pirates, struggles on the mound eventually led to his release; less than a week later, just as the strike-shortened 1995 season began, he signed as a free agent with Boston, where he has remained for 14 seasons, now the longest tenure of any pitcher in franchise history.
Through his last start Friday night against Toronto, an eventual 7-0 win over the Blue Jays, Wakefield has a record of 163-144 with an ERA of 4.32 and 1681 strikeouts in 364 career starts and 501 total appearances as a pitcher in Boston. He also owns 22 saves, including 15 he collected in 1999 after then-closer Tom Gordon went down with an injury at mid-season and before Derek Lowe was moved to that role by manager Jimy Williams. His win total puts him third in franchise history behind Roger Clemens and Cy Young, both with 192, and his total appearances ranks him second behind Bob Stanley, who had 637 trips to the mound over 13 seasons with the club. He is also third in innings pitched (2568-1/3), second in strikeouts with 1786, and second in games started with 364. Unfortunately, he also owns some less-desirable marks with the club, including the most home runs allowed (342), walks allowed (961), losses (144), and wild pitches (95).
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Less than two years after being diagnosed with cancer, Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester threw the 18th no-hitter in Boston history Monday night, blanking the Kansas City Royals 7-0 with just two walks allowed while striking out nine at Fenway Park. Lester’s gem comes over eight months after fellow starter Clay Buchholz threw a no-no against the Baltimore Orioles last fall in the rookie’s second major league start, the first time since the California Angels in 1974 and 1975 that a single team has recorded back-to-back no-hitters – in that instance, both were thrown by Nolan Ryan. Lester, who was the winning pitcher in the final game of the 2007 World Series for the Sox, threw 130 pitches, 86 for strikes, in his first-ever complete game effort and became just the fourth left-handed pitcher to throw a no-no in team history, the first since Red Sox Hall of Fame pitcher Mel Parnell threw one in July of 1956.
After going 36 years between Dave Morehead’s no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park in 1965 and former Japanese sensation Hideo Nomo’s feat in 2001 at Camden Yards against the Orioles, Sox pitchers have thrown four in the past eight seasons. Following Nomo’s performance in his first-ever start for Boston in the second game of the season, Derek Lowe threw Fenway’s first no-no in 37 years; five seasons later, Buchholz tossed the third one of the decade for Boston to begin the month of September 2007, only the third pitcher in major league history to throw in a no-hitter by his second career start.
Veteran backstop Jason Varitek also made history by catching his fourth no-hitter, the most ever in a career by a catcher, and it marked the fourth different pitcher that he has helped accomplish the feat. He even helped Lester’s cause by hitting a two-run home run to the grandstand in right field to plate the final two runs of the night for Boston. Lester’s command was near perfect in his bid, throwing first-pitch strikes to 19 batters, and the only threat by Kansas City came with two outs in the fourth, when Jose Guillen’s sinking line drive was caught by a diving Jacoby Ellsbury in center field to end the inning.
With the Boston Red Sox facing elimination from the American League Championship Series, down three games to one to the Cleveland Indians, Red Sox fans can take solace in the fact that Boston has a recent history of coming back to win when facing early deficits in playoff series. In 1999, the club faced quick elimination from post-season play when they fell behind two games to none in a best-of-five divisional series with the Indians, but the Sox bounced back with two wins at home and won the series finale 12-8 behind two home runs from Troy O’Leary and a memorable relief effort from Pedro Martinez. Four years later in 2003, Boston also fell behind the Oakland Athletics 2-0 in their divisional match-up, but two wins at Fenway Park sent the series back west for the finale, where a three-run home run by Manny Ramirez, seven strong innings from Martinez, and a save by Derek Lowe gave Boston a 4-3 win in the deciding game.
Boston is also one of ten teams in post-season history to climb back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the series. In 1986, the Sox were one out away from losing to the California Angels in the American League Championship Series when Dave Henderson’s two-run home run to left field at Angel Stadium gave Boston a temporary one-run cushion; the Red Sox would eventually win the game 7-6 in extra innings to force the series back to the East Coast. There, perhaps still stunned by the turn of events in Game Five, the Angels easily crumbled under the sodium lights at Fenway Park as Boston won Game Six 10-4 and then took Game Seven 8-1 behind a strong effort by Roger Clemens and home runs by Dwight Evans and Jim Rice to win the pennant. Boston also accomplished the same feat 18 years later in one of the most memorable comebacks in league history. Against the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Red Sox found themselves down three games to none after getting trounced 19-8 in Game Three at Fenway Park, but Boston won two extra-inning affairs in Games Four and Five to send the series back to New York. After winning Game Six to force a winner-take-all finale, the Red Sox completed the first-ever comeback from a 3-0 post-season series deficit in Major League Baseball with an easy 10-3 win over a shell-shocked New York ball club, with former Boston outfielder Johnny Damon hitting two home runs and driving home six in the effort.
On Saturday night, Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, making just his second career major league start, became the 17th player and first rookie in franchise history to toss a no-hitter as he held the Baltimore Orioles to just three walks while striking out nine on 115 pitches in a 10-0 Boston win. It was the first no-hitter thrown by a Boston pitcher since Derek Lowe no-hit Tampa Bay at Fenway Park back in April 2002, one year after Hideo Nomo threw his second career no-hitter against the Orioles at Camden Yard in April 2001.
The 23-year-old rookie, drafted by the Red Sox in 2005 as compensation for the loss of Pedro Martinez to free agency, also became the third pitcher to throw a no-hitter in either his first or second major league start; his only other start came two weeks ago against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Fenway. Buchholz also became the 17th rookie in major league history to throw a no-hitter and the third pitcher to throw a no-hitter this season. It was also the first time that he had thrown more than seven innings in a start for the Boston organization this season; he had thrown seven complete twice with Double-A Portland and once with Triple-A Pawtucket.
Ironically, Boston actually had the opportunity on the last day of the 2006 season to witness a rookie throw a no-hitter in just his second start. Devern Hansack, making his Fenway debut one week after his major league debut in Toronto, went five innings against Baltimore and, despite one walk, had faced the minimum 15 batters while striking out six. Unfortunately, the game was called on account of severe weather after five complete with the Red Sox leading 9-0; due to rule changes made in 1991 by Major League Baseball’s Committee for Statistical Accuracy, Hansack’s effort was not recognized as an official “no-hitter” in the record books since he had thrown fewer than nine no-hit innings.
In team history, only Cy Young and Dutch Leonard have thrown more than one no-hitter for the Red Sox and Young is the only Boston pitcher to throw a perfect game, the first in American League history. Oddly enough, no-hitters have come in bunches for Boston; nine were tossed between Young’s perfect gem in 1904 and Leonard’s second no-no in 1918. After Howard Ehmke no-hit the Athletics in Philadelphia in 1923, no Red Sox pitcher managed another one until 1956 when Mel Parnell threw one at Fenway Park against Chicago. Six years later, Earl Wilson and Bill Monbouquette threw no-hitters within five weeks of each other in 1962 and Dave Morehead threw a no-no against the Indians at home in 1965; it would then be another 36 years before the next Red Sox no-hitter and 37 years before a Red Sox pitcher would toss one in front of the home crowd at Fenway.
Through Sunday, Boston’s record is 30-13 on the regular season, which puts the team 10-1/2 games in front of second-place Baltimore and New York for the lead in the American League East. However, believe it or not, this only ties the second-best record to start a season to this point. In 2002, Boston also began the season at 30-13 through 22 May but, to that point of the season, the Red Sox were only one game in front of the second-place Yankees, who had started 31-16. Two days earlier, Boston had improved its fast start to 30-11 after thumping the Chicago White Sox 9-0 at Fenway Park behind Derek Lowe’s eight-inning masterpiece on the mound and home runs from Jason Varitek and Shea Hillenbrand, but had dropped the final two games of the series. Boston would go on finish at 93-69 in skipper Grady Little’s first year as manager but 10-1/2 games behind eventual division champion New York.
In 1946, Boston’s record after 43 games of play was an amazing 34-9, in part thanks to a team-record 15-game winning streak between 25 April and 10 May of that season, which put their record to that point at an unbelieveable 21-3. The Red Sox had gone on to win another 13 of 19 and put themselves seven games in front of second-place New York. Boston would finish the season at 104-50, the second-best record in team history behind the 1912 club that had won 105 games and the World Series, and easily won the American League pennant by 12 games over Detroit and 17 games over New York. In contrast, the team’s worst record after 43 games was 8-35 in 1932 on a club that would finish with 111 losses that season, a franchise record for futility.