It’s been said that Joe Mooney, the legendary Fenway Park groundskeeper, has a direct line to God when it comes to weather matters. So maybe Mooney dialed up the Big Guy and asked him for a nice stiff, unpredictable wind yesterday -- the kind knuckleballers love.
Certainly the wind was a nice complement as Tim Wakefield, who had struggled for three starts, returned to his dominant form, pitching eight innings of four-hit ball in an 8-1 victory over the California Angels before 32,987 at Fenway.
“He didn’t even need the wind,” said catcher Mike Macfarlane. “It wasn’t a factor. His stuff was great. His ball was moving and he wasn’t afraid to
throw it the knuckleball behind on the count. We got some strikeouts with it even on the count. I, for one, never panicked about him. He’s been throwing the ball good, but he just didn’t get the results. Today he got the results.”
Wakefield returning to prominence was big. While Roger Clemens has the momentum in the race for who will be the No. 1 pitcher in the playoffs, Wakefield got back in the hunt with a splendid outing. He allowed one run, walked three and struck out seven.
Wakefield improved to 15-3 and his ERA dipped to 2.44. He’s 8-1 with a 1.73 ERA at Fenway and 2-0 in three games against the Angels, who ended their regular-season series with the Sox 3-11.
This was a nifty game for the Sox, who swept the completely confused Angels, losers of nine straight. California wasn’t fighting with the Red Sox yesterday, it was fighting with plate umpire Larry Barnett, who was generous in calling strikes for Wakefield. Angels manager Marcel Lachemann was ejected in the fourth after John Valentin’s single scored the sixth Boston run. Lachemann went out to visit his roughed-up starter, Chuck Finley, and used it as a forum to give Barnett the business. Barnett ejected him, and Lachemann continued the dispute from the dugout, kicking a few helmets onto the field.
In the top of the fifth, the latest target of the Boston fans, Tony Phillips, argued a called third strike and Barnett tossed him.
“Larry did a good job staying with the pitch,” said Macfarlane. “If he didn’t give us a close one that I thought should have been a strike, he’d give the next available close one.”
But, despite that sideshow, the main event was Wakefield.
“I had fun out there,” he said. “Mo Vaughn made a great play behind me in the eighth that really kept me going.”
Wakefield escaped a rough period in the second when he allowed back-to-back singles to J.T. Snow and Garret Anderson and hit Rex Hudler before Andy Allanson singled to left, scoring the lone Angel run. Wakefield got the next two outs on harmless popouts (although the sun was so brilliant, routine pops weren’t so routine) and settled down the rest of the way.
Tim Naehring, whose work ethic symbolizes this team, had another big day. He hit a three-run homer in the first -- his ninth -- with Valentin and Jose Canseco on and two out. After the Angels got their run in the second, the Sox got one in the third when Vaughn doubled to left, scoring Valentin. In the fourth, Willie McGee doubled home Macfarlane, and Valentin knocked in McGee with a single, making it 6-1.
In the sixth, Vaughn continued his hot hitting with a double high off the Wall, scoring Valentin for his 105th RBI.
Valentin reached base five times, scoring three runs, and stole his 18th base. He was 6 for 11 in the series with four RBIs.
“He had quite a game,” said manager Kevin Kennedy. “He had some excellent at-bats and worked the run-and-hit with Mo very well. He’s having such a great year and has become such a hitter.”
Maybe the best thing about the sweep is that the Sox beat -- in fact pounded -- two of the toughest lefties in the business: Mark Langston and Finley. They came back against California after losing two of three to Seattle. There’s a day off today before a two-game set with Oakland.
“We’ve got our focus back,” said left fielder Mike Greenwell, “and I think we have a track record when that happens. We want to keep beating teams, winning series, clinch the division and then get ready for the biggest job -- the playoffs.”