Tim Wakefield preps for likely final year

BOSTON -- The weekend suddenly turned into a farewell tour for the Boston Red Sox and their seasoned veterans. While Mike Lowell played the last game of his career Saturday, Tim Wakefield admitted the 2011 season will likely be his last and it's possible Jason Varitek could be playing his last game with the Red Sox on Sunday.

Lowell collected his final hit as a major leaguer -- a wall ball off the Green Monster that missed a home run by a foot or so -- and was replaced with a pinch-runner in the bottom of the fifth inning. He walked off the field to a standing ovation at Fenway Park.

The script went according to plan.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they lost the first game of a doubleheader to the New York Yankees in 10 innings, 6-5.

On the mound for Boston was knuckleballer Wakefield. He wasn't scheduled to start Saturday, but after Clay Buchholz suffered a back injury during his bullpen session Friday, the club thought it best to shut him down for the remainder of the season and hand the ball to Wakefield.

Wakefield hasn't been thrilled with his role this season, and hasn't complained about it, but he admitted Saturday afternoon this season has taken its toll on him.

"It's over for me. This season is over for me. It's been very frustrating and hard to swallow at times," he said. "I've done whatever they've asked me to do and I never complained too much. It is what it is, and it was what it was. All I can do is prepare myself for next year in whatever role it might be.

"I haven't been told or know what's going to happen next year."

It's likely his role next season will be the same as it was this summer, and he also knows it could be his last.

"I think it'll be easier for me, knowing it'll probably be my last year," Wakefield said. "So, we'll see about that."

Wakefield arrived at spring training last February with every intention of being in the rotation. But the only time he found himself in the rotation during the season was when a fellow starter was injured. He's made a total of 19 starts this season and has worked out of the bullpen 13 times.

If he's told his role will be similar next season, he said it would be a little easier to deal with.

"It would have been a lot easier going into the season what I was up against," he said. "Obviously, it wasn't done that way and that was a little bit of the frustration that I felt, considering what I did in '09 and coming into this season, proving I would be healthy for the '10 season. I threw 140 innings this year and no one expected me to do that, and that's for sure. I'm proud of that."

With his five-inning performance Saturday, Wakefield finishes the season with exactly 140 innings pitched and a 4-10 record to go along with a 5.32 ERA.

He's reached a few milestones this season. The 44-year-old became the oldest pitcher to appear in a game with the Red Sox, surpassing Dennis Eckersley. Wakefield owns 193 career wins, which is third among active starters after the Phillies' Jamie Moyer (267) and the Yankees' Andy Pettitte (240).

There's a good chance Wakefield will reach 200 career wins, but there's another mark that's just as important to him.

He currently has 173 wins with the Red Sox, which is third in club history behind Roger Clemens and Cy Young, who each have 192. Wakefield wants to own the top spot.

Even though it was "Thanks, Mike Day" on Saturday, Lowell made sure to give his due to teammate and fellow veteran in Wakefield.

"I think Wake and his stamp on Red Sox history is much greater than anyone I've been around," Lowell said. "Speaking of a story, he was first baseman in the minor leagues [Pittsburgh Pirates] and then turns out a 16-year career in this organization, and [to] do well and have so much success -- the innings pitched, the victories -- you're throwing his name around with Clemens and Cy Young for Red Sox history, so I don't think he has anything but positives to look at with his career here with the Red Sox."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona did have it set up so that Wakefield would come out of the game at a point when the fans could recognize him, and the 37,467 answered with a standing ovation.

"It was very nice," Wakefield said. "It was a tribute to the fans, knowing their appreciation for what I've done here and hopefully I can continue to bring some smiles on some faces, and strive for what I'm striving for."

Wakefield finished five innings and allowed five runs on seven hits with three walks and tied a season-high six strikeouts.

"I felt great. I felt better than what I expected to since I only had one inning in two weeks," Wakefield said. "I felt like I could have gone six, or maybe seven."

Overall, especially after having offseason surgery on his back, Wakefield is pleased with his health at this point.

"I'm very pleased with how I've handled the physical aspect," he said. "I've gone from starter, to bullpen, back to starter, back to bullpen, back to starter and spot starts. The 140 innings I gave the club this year hasn't been the easiest 140 innings. It's been tough, but I'm proud of the fact that I actually got to the innings pitched that I got to, considering what happened last year and considering what was expected of me this year."

Now that Wakefield's season is officially over, he admits he has no idea how he'll prepare for the upcoming offseason.

"I'm definitely going to take a break and then see what happens," he said.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.