Deceptively beautiful. Fluttering towards the batter begging to be hit, only to dance away from the bat at the last second. It is the knuckleball. And it’s master is Tim Wakefield. In a chilly Camden Yards he left a gang of Orioles frustrated and perhaps a bit sheepish. Because the knuckleball doesn’t just make you miss, it taunts you. The fastball beats you with it’s power, the curveball dazzles you with it’s sweeping arc, the changeup tricks, posing as a fastball then darting away. But the knuckleball beguiles you. Like a butterfly it dances toward you, slowly, harmlessly. And as you walk back to the dugout, it whispers to you.
For a pitcher, the knuckleball is just as dangerous. It is a fickle mistress, unwilling to be controlled. Consecutively, it can drop two feet in front of it’s intended destination and skip past the catcher, then refuse to dance at all and be sent to the bleachers like some weak fastball. That was the case in Texas, leaving Wakefield the only Red Sox starter with a loss and Josh Bard the target of a Nation’s anger. Not so in Baltimore yesterday.
Wakefield harnessed in his best pitch and led the Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Orioles. It wasn’t the complete-game, one-hit shutout, ten strikeout control he’s capable of bringing. For that, conditions must be perfect and the knuckleball a bit more submissive to the desires of the pitcher. But it was a step in that direction. Sixty-three of his 93 pitches were strikes, just 5 hits and 2 walks over 6 innings with 4 K’s and a single unearned run. Oh, and no wild pitches or passed balls.
Not only is Wakefield redeemed, but so is Bard. So wrongly accused of making Wakefield look bad, when in fact it was simply the knuckleball’s brazen disobedience making them both look bad. Bard, along with fellow newcomers Snow and Loretta helped out with the bats as well. Not to mention Adam Stern, picking up where he left off in spring training with a couple of hits and 2 RBI. It had the “everyone contributes” feeling of a certain 2004 team. The bullpen continued to shine: Timlin in the 7th, a little Foulke music in the 8th, and Papelbon in the 9th.
And now comes the absolute buzz kill of an off-day during a win streak. Not just any off-day but the interminable day before the home opener. As if a Fenway home opener isn’t enough, this one features Josh Beckett. Who better to feed off the electricity of the Fenway Faithful and transform it into an emotional display of raw power and desire to win? It should be magical.
Welcome home, Red Sox. Welcome home, baseball.