Tim Wakefield had been saying for weeks that it was more important for the Red Sox to win games and get closer to a postseason berth on the days he pitched than it was for him to reach his 200th career victory.
Never was that more the case than last night. The Sox returned to Fenway Park having lost five straight, an ill-timed skid that allowed the Tampa Bay Rays back into the wild-card race. The collapse became the talk of baseball.
Perhaps that was why, when the Sox finished off an 18-6 victory against the Blue Jays, every player followed Wakefield out of the clubhouse and back onto the field to celebrate. It was nothing too wild, just a little champagne and a lot of smiles.
“There was some genuine happiness. Probably for us, too,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “It seemed like we’ve been waiting for that win as long as Wake’s been waiting for his.’’
With the Rays losing in Baltimore, the Sox have a four-game lead with 15 to play. Tampa Bay arrives for a four-game series tomorrow.
Wakefield (7-6) allowed five runs in the first three innings, twice giving up the lead. But he shut the Blue Jays down for the next three innings, giving the offense a chance to go to work. The Sox scored their most runs since an 18-10 victory against Baltimore on Aug. 2, 2009. Of their 18 hits, nine were for extra bases.
The top two hitters in the lineup, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, were 8 for 10 with eight runs, three doubles, three home runs, and eight RBIs.
“Every win is big; we’re going to come out and play every day like it’s Game 7 from here on out, we have to,’’ said Pedroia, who homered twice and matched his career high with five RBIs. “We have a great group of guys, very talented, but if we don’t play together we’re not going to be very good.’’
Jarrod Saltalamacchia had two hits and four RBIs and Marco Scutaro two hits and two RBIs as the Sox battered Brandon Morrow and five relievers.
Trailing, 5-4, after three innings, the Sox scored twice in the fourth, four in the sixth, one in the seventh, and seven in the eighth. Pedroia’s three-run homer in the sixth was the hit that allowed everybody to finally relax. Ahead, 10-5, the Sox had quelled the panic, at least for a night.
“It means a lot to me that it came on a night we needed to win,’’ Wakefield said. “I’m glad it’s over with, but I’m glad it came that way.’’
Wakefield is 200-178 over 19 seasons and 625 games. He is the 108th pitcher to win 200 games, the 89th since 1900. At 45 years old, Wakefield is the oldest pitcher to record his 200th win since 44-year-old Jack Quinn in 1927.
“Once we got all those runs, I had goosebumps,’’ said Saltalamacchia, who took over the chore of catching Wakefield and has 21 passed balls to prove it.
Jose Iglesias, who was called up from the minors before the game and scored a run, was 16 months old when Wakefield won his first game for the Pirates in 1992. Iglesias was at shortstop when the game ended and hugged Wakefield afterward.
“The new guys who got called up today, being able to share that with them was very special to me,’’ said Wakefield, who retired 11 of the final 13 batters he faced.
Wakefield gave up five runs on six hits. The Sox took the lead back for him in the fourth inning as Ellsbury and Pedroia hit back-to-back home runs, both clearing the wall in left.
The lead grew to 10-5 in the sixth. Carl Crawford led off with a double and was sacrificed to third by Scutaro. Saltalamacchia came through with an RBI single to left. Ellsbury also singled, then everybody jogged home when Pedroia sent a fastball from Luis Perez rattling around the base of the light tower in left field.
Morrow (9-11) allowed seven runs (five earned) on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. He has started against the Red Sox three times this season and given up 26 earned runs over 19 innings.
The Sox padded their lead in the seventh. Crawford singled with two outs and scored from first on a double by Scutaro. The shortstop has 15 RBIs in his last nine games and is 16 of 34 (.471). He is up to .290 on the season.
The Sox sent 11 batters to the plate in the eighth and scored seven runs on five hits. Toronto manager John Farrell used three pitchers.
As the game came to a close, those remaining in the crowd of 38,020 started chanting Wakefield’s name. They stayed until he emerged from the dugout and tipped his cap.
It was a celebration that could lead to others down the road.
“It’s a special thing to get to the postseason. A lot of guys are starting to realize it’s not that easy to get there,’’ Wakefield said. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Hopefully tonight’s win will give us some momentum going that way.’’Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.