Tim Wakefield’s World Series Sacrifice
As I’ve said earlier in this essay, it was the interplay of players at opposite ends of the seniority spectrum that made 2007’s team truly special. It wasn’t just a mix of veterans and youngsters—it was at times a mix of icons and the unknown.
Nowhere was the power of this mixture more evident than with Tim Wakefield, and his fellow hurlers who were wet behind the ears. Somehow, it was appropriate that a player who already serves as a conduit between the current era and the memories of 20 years ago should be the one who stepped aside just in time to let one of his younger teammates put some of the most classic performances in Red Sox history, and he did this not once, but twice.
The first time, it was Clay Buchholz Wakefield stepped aside for, when on Sept. 1, 2007, he was scratched from a scheduled appearance, and Buchholz was tapped to fill in.
Now, in the World Series, Wakefield’s substitute was Jon Lester, with a wondrous story of his own, and another stellar performance to seal another kind of unprecedented victory, with his mother, as always, cheering in delirious joy from the stands.
After the game was over, Mike Timlin would pull a cameraman aside, put his arm around Tim Wakefield, and deliver the following unforgettable speech:
I just want to say one thing. This guy right here? This win is for this man, because he was not on the roster and he showed so much heart by saying, ‘I can’t be on the roster,’ and it was good for the team. This is what kind of person is standing right here. I love this guy. I’m proud of this guy. It’s the hardest thing to do to take yourself out of the game for someone else. But he did it, and I’m proud of him.
And yet, while I take nothing away from Tim Wakefield’s generosity or his sacrifice, somehow, it felt all along like it was meant to be.
The year of the Papelbon
“So far as me and my memories are concerned, this year was above all the Year of the Papelbon,” Sam wrote in her post recapping the World Series victory.
He has a pre-pitch stare towards the batter that causes TV announcers and AP photographers to fall over themselves! He can throw 100 mph! He was one of the best closers in the game! Feared! Adored! In a way, though, we already knew all that. This season stood out because this was the year we were exposed to the full spectrum of Papelbon-ness.
You get the sense Papelbon is just being himself, which is perhaps the most mind-blowing part of the whole thing. He’s like a new species of baseball player genetically engineered to feed on the pressure of Boston. He loves it, he eats it up, and he gives it right back. He is the most perfect example yet of the traits the Red Sox look for and encourage in its prospects: iron-willed and with a bold, bright, endearing personality. It’s an essential ingredient, they seem to have determined, in surviving the scrutiny.
It doesn’t require that said personality be loud and supremely extroverted, as Papelbon’s is. That’s just a bonus.
During this off-season, I was treated to footage of Papelbon’s now-famous moose hunt, which was filmed for posterity and broadcast on NESN. I thought one of Papelbon’s lines, as he looked out at the wild landscape, captured his unassuming and slightly obtuse off-field persona perfectly. As he panned over the view, Papelbon said from behind the lens, “How freakin’ beautiful.”
But then, on the field, he is a totally different creature. On the field, as he pistons his left leg to his chest and stamps it back down to the turf again, delivering filthy, fast pitches with machine-like precision, you can’t help but get the sense of him as some new superior evolution of creature. It reminds me of a quote from an article in Harper’s I recently read, describing Secretariat: “The sight of him in motion is one of the things that we can present to the aliens when they come in judgment asking why they should spare our world.”
With 2004, the indelible images always consist of one player’s relationship to another. The image of Kevin Millar drawing a walk from Mariano Rivera. The image of Dave Roberts sliding in ahead of Derek Jeter’s tag. The image of Keith Foulke underhanding to Doug Mientkiewicz at first base.
This year, there was no relay required to get the final out of the second Red Sox Series sweep in four years. Papelbon stood alone, riding a streak of zeros to his finale for the postseason, which had already seen solitary drunken dancing when the Sox won the division and a truly maniacal celebration as the pennant was clinched.
As the championship was sealed, Papelbon’s opponent swung and missed and once again immediately became irrelevant in the face of his reaction. This time it was an extraordinary leap several feet into the air as he tore off his cap, an athletic expression of triumph captured in innumerable photographs from every possible angle to become the iconic image of the second victory.
In 2004 it was the pile of them, Foulke underhanding to Mientkiewicz and immediately turning to holler at Varitek, who proceeded to leap up over both of them and bring the Thighs of Freedom (tm Kristen) crashing down on Foulke in a mighty celebration tackle, before the rest of the team piled in around them. This year, it was that single exclamation point from Papelbon. It was his solo performance.
So they are apples and oranges, the difference between a sonata and a symphony. But they’re both freakin’ beautiful.
Tomorrow: Part VI. Celebration