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Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Feel-good story becomes horror show

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- This is supposed to be a feel-good story? Numbing is more like it.

It's almost become too much to bear, watching Tim Wakefield and the Red Sox bullpen mangle efforts to collect his 200th win, which started out as a nice number for him to hang his career on but has become the hardball version of "Saw," I through VII.

Tim Wakefield
Tim Wakefield's ongoing quest for his 200th victory seems to be taking a toll on the Red Sox, or at least on their fans.

The quest, now seven failed starts and counting after Wednesday night's 11-10 debacle in Toronto, is claiming more victims than simply the 45-year-old knuckleballer, who coughed up a 3-0 first-inning lead but still was in position to claim the W when the Sox staked him to an 8-5 advantage after five, which is when he departed.

The pressure of preserving what had been trimmed to a two-run lead for Wakefield on Wednesday night proved too much for Daniel Bard, or so it seemed, as the Sox setup man mislocated home plate as badly as he has in two seasons and walked home a pair of runs to tie it.

The wait clearly has taken its toll on the folks at home, too, many of whom took to tweeting their rage at manager Terry Francona for not bailing out Bard with Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth inning, even though Bard twice came within one pitch of extricating himself from his self-created misery, striking out two before walking Eric Thames and Jose Bautista on full counts to even the score.

Instead of Papelbon, Francona eventually brought in Matt Albers, who can clear out a joint with the best of them as he proved yet again Wednesday night, giving up a three-run gapper to Edwin Encarnacion that all but iced this one. Four months of good work by Albers has been wiped from most memory banks by a six-week stint as a pitching piņata that has made his spot on the postseason roster a crapshoot at best.

The desire to bring closure to this Wakefield business is clouding judgment in many quarters. The pro-Pap crowd based its argument on the win-now-and-worry-about-tomorrow premise, ignoring the fact that Francona has used Papelbon only twice all season to record four outs -- April 20 and May 9. The time to deviate from that pattern is not now, but in October.

Besides, Bard had owned Bautista in their previous encounters (0-for-6, 3 Ks), and even while obviously struggling, had managed to punch out Yuniel Escobar with a full-count, front-door slider that was as pretty a pitch as he has thrown this season. Bard had also thrown enough pitches to render him of no use for Thursday's game, another reason to try to limit Papelbon's workload Wednesday.

So Francona, who had already used Franklin Morales and Dan Wheeler and needed to stay away from Alfredo Aceves after his long Monday night in relief of the injured Josh Beckett, gambled on Bard, then on Albers, and came up empty.

Even after Wakefield was no longer a factor for the win, the Sox mounted one last threat, scoring twice in the ninth, but again lost their heads, pinch-runner Mike Aviles getting thrown out trying to steal on an 0-and-2 pitch for the final out of the game, a misguided act of desperation on a night already ruined.

Win now? Try telling that to Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who put out a lineup without Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano or Mark Teixeira on Wednesday afternoon after the Yanks had played into the wee hours the previous night. If the division race was the be-all-and-end-all, do you think Girardi would have done that? The Yankees lost to the Orioles in 11 innings, but maintained a 2 ½-game lead over the Sox in the AL East.

Fret, if you must, that the Tampa Bay Rays are seven games behind in the wild-card race and have seven games left against the Sox, even though it would take a historic collapse by the Sox to be overtaken with only 20 games left. Yes, the Mets blew a seven-game lead to the Phillies with 17 to play in 2007, but those were the Mets. These are the not the Sox of the 86-year curse but the only team in the 21st century to win two World Series titles.

Have a little faith, people, even though guys named Miller, Lackey and Weiland are due to pitch the next three, Beckett's return from his ankle injury is a mystery and Erik Bedard's sore knee has come into play at the worst time.

The good news from the northern side of the border? The offense put up double-digits in runs again Wednesday night, and Clay Buchholz had another healthy game of catch and may stretch it out to 120 feet on Friday. That's one step away from testing his back throwing off a mound, and if Buchholz can do that, there may yet be time for him to be a factor in October.

Maybe not as a starter, but perhaps out of the 'pen. And wouldn't you prefer that sight to more of Matt Albers?

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.