Derrek Lee was discussing the best way to handle a knuckleball pitcher like Tim Wakefield before the finale of the Cubs-Boston series Sunday, suggesting patience was the only real weapon in a hitter's arsenal.
"You have to be patient, because most knuckleballs are going to be balls," Lee said. "But if you can get the one that's up, that's the one you have the most success against."
But Wakefield's knuckler danced the way he wanted it to against the Cubs, leading the Red Sox to an 8-1 win to avoid a sweep in the teams' first meeting since the 1918 World Series.
Wakefield yielded one run on four hits in seven innings, snapping a personal five-game losing streak, while Johnny Damon homered and drove in three runs in Boston's 17-hit attack.
Wakefield entered Sunday's start with a 5.13 earned-run average, including a 6.94 ERA in his previous eight starts. But he managed to stifle the Cubs without breaking much of a sweat, handing Glendon Rusch his second loss in seven decisions and dropping the Cubs 61/2 games behind Central Division-leading St. Louis.
"If we continue to play the way we're playing and win series and keep going with what we're doing, we'll be right where we need to be at the end of the season," Rusch said.
"Regardless of whether it's catching the Cardinals or being in contention to win the wild card. However you get in, getting in is all that matters."
Wakefield departed after seven innings, throwing only 86 pitches, 60 for strikes.
Wakefield (5-2) had issued 25 walks in his previous six starts, but the free-swinging Cubs didn't show much patience, taking no walks.
"You know he's going to be around the plate, so you can't take," Todd Walker said. "You also know that if you do take, he's going to bury you and he's not going to get tired, so there's no reason to take. You go up and if it's high you let it fly, and if it's low you let it go. There [were] a lot of high ones tonight, and we weren't able to find any holes."
Manager Dusty Baker sat red-hot left fielder Todd Hollandsworth for Jason Dubois, reasoning he didn't "want to mess up the stroke [Hollandsworth's] got with a knuckleballer" like Wakefield.
"Plus, right-handers are hitting a whole lot more against Wakefield than left-handers," Baker said. "It seems like his ball moves away from a left-hander more than anything and into right-handers."
Even switch-hitter Neifi Perez opted to hit right-handed against Wakefield to offset the movement on his knuckler.
But nothing worked. Their lone run came on a seventh-inning fielder's choice by Aramis Ramirez with the Cubs trailing 7-0.
Rusch (5-2) pitched relatively well for the first five innings, making only two bad pitches. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis homered into the basket in left with two outs in the first, his first home run, and Damon homered in the fifth, his second of the season.
But the Red Sox broke through with three off Rusch in the sixth, knocking him out of the game. After a single, walk and an infield hit loaded the bases, Wakefield's broken-bat grounder to second resulted in a force at second that brought in the first run. Damon followed up by getting a 91-m.p.h. fastball and launching it into left-center for a two-run triple, making it 5-0.
"That sealed the deal, the way Wakefield was throwing," Rusch said.
Rusch wound up throwing 114 pitches in 52/3 innings, giving up more earned runs (5) than in his last four starts combined (4). Relievers Joe Borowski and Cliff Bartosh were unimpressive in mop-up duty, though Baker was able to rest his setup men for this week's series with Florida, which begins Monday.
Borowski served up a two-run homer to Manny Ramirez that landed on Waveland Avenue, the first homer in 17 games for the Red Sox slugger. Bartosh served up a solo home run to Jay Payton in the ninth, the third homer off him in his last two appearances.
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