The Semi-Charmed Life of Tim Wakefield
In 1992 ,Tim Wakefield was an unheralded rookie on a star-studded Pirate team that most of Pittsburgh thought was fated to finally break through the NLCS wall that had stopped them in '90 and '91. He and his knuckleball showed up on July 31 that year and went 8-1 down the stretch. He took the ball as a starter twice in the NLCS, once in Game 3 with the Pirates down 2-0 in the series and again in Game 6 with the Bucs down 3-2. He threw two complete games and beat Tom Glavine twice. Pittsburgh legend holds that the NLCS Trophy was engraved with Wakefield's name after the Pirates took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth on that fateful night fifteen years ago, but things just weren't meant to be.
In 2003, Wakefield pitched strongly in Game 1 and Game 4 of the ALCS to again pick up two wins. He was again tantalizingly close to the World Series until the infamous Grady Little mental meltdown, followed by Wake himself giving up the unforgettable home run to Aaron Boone. In 2004, Wakefield probably had his worst post-season, giving up 12 earned runs in 11 innings. Still, he threw three scoreless innings in extra frames in Game 5 of the ALCS to pick up the win, doing his part to facilitate the biggest playoff comeback ever and finally getting the ring that had eluded him for so long.
Is there another player with such a checkered playoff record in this era? How does one semi-obscure knuckleballer with a career that is otherwise so ordinary end up in so many big situations? I honestly can't answer those questions, but I do know that tonight, four years to the day after Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS (if you didn't know that, don't worry, FOX will remind you tonight as they pine for those days and think of the ratings horror of an Indians/Rockies World Series) and fifteen years and two days since Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, Tim Wakefield is again taking the mound in a huge playoff game with his team's hopes resting squarely on his shoulders. It's one of those oddities that only baseball can produce.