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Wakefield in the ALCS: Bring Your TUMS

Wondering how knuckleball specialist Tim Wakefield, who doubles as a weekly cardiac fitness test for Red Sox fans around the country, has done in the playoffs? Don't worry, you're not alone. Manager Terry Francona is wondering the same thing.

That's because Wakefield has been just as Jekyll and Hyde in the postseason as he is during the regular season. In the 2003 ALCS, Wakefield pitched in three games, starting two and, famously, giving up the walk-off home run to Aaron Boone in Game 7. Heartbreak aside, he won his two starts for a 2-1 record and put up an amazing 2.57 ERA against a powerful Yankees lineup in the process. In 2004 Wakefield famously sacrificed his personal glory for the good of the team, taking the Yankees' lumps during a Game 3 rout at the cost of his expected Game 4 start. He ended up getting three games in relief, knocked around for an 8.59 ERA, though much of that came in that one resonant Fenway Park thumping.

Just last year against the Indians, Wakefield was called on to serve exactly the same purpose he's being summoned for tonight. The Red Sox desperately needed a win, and Wakefield hit the mound at Jacobs Field ... and got clubbed. He gave up 5 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, putting the Sox in a hole they spent the rest of the series clawing out of.

Still, Red Sox fans know that Wakefield has always dominated the Rays, right? Sorry again, Boston. The 42 year-old entered the season an amazing 17-1 against the Rays in his career, but this year has been different (as it was for almost everyone against Tampa Bay). Wakefield is 0-2 against Tampa Bay in 2008, most recently getting knocked around for a whopping 6 earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings less than a month ago.

So it's a certain loss for the Red Sox? Not necessarily. With a pitcher like Wakefield, you never know when he will suddenly "re-find" something in his knuckleball delivery and become unhittable. It happened at the start of 2007 and he put together a winning streak that nearly outpaced Josh Beckett in the first half, and Beckett went on to win 20 games.

That may not provide a whole lot of comfort for Boston fans at the moment, but it's the essence of knuckleball pitchers. And that duality is exactly why Boston has a chance, especially given the lineup shakeup Francona authored, as reported by Dave below.

What does that mean as the minutes tick away before the start of Game 4? It means both Red Sox and Rays fans should make sure to keep TUMS, Maalox, Pepcid AC or any other acid blocker of choice at their ready. They could be in for a heavy dose.

By Cameron Smith  |  October 14, 2008; 6:15 PM ET
Categories:  Rays , Red Sox  
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Posted by: Anonymous | October 14, 2008 11:18 PM | Report abuse

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