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Catch as Catch Can
Rick Reilly
September 10, 2007
YOU SAY YOU'RE 41 years old and your fastball is slower than gums receding and your pitches are so wild people get hurt catching you?
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September 10, 2007

Catch As Catch Can

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Bard; Mirabelli was hitting .182 in San Diego, and Boston still had to throw in a good reliever and 100 grand.

"It's not fun," Mirabelli admits. "It's sort of like the Karate Kid, trying to catch a fly with chopsticks. But when you go a whole game without a passed ball, it's very satisfying."

When Mirabelli injured his calf a month ago, the team brought up journeyman Kevin Cash and started saying rosaries. Of Wakefield's first 12 pitches, Cash missed eight. "The first one he threw me?" recalls Cash, 29. "I squeezed my glove and it hit me in the face mask." But he settled down, and Cash and Wakefield didn't allow an earned run in their first two starts together.

How and why the knuckleball works is a mystery to Wakefield. His knuckler was hopping around like popcorn in a microwave at the start of the season, then went flat for most of May and June, and now it's back at its hiccupping best. But ask him about the pitch, and it's like talking to Tolstoy about writer's block. "I don't know, and I don't want to know," Wakefield says.

A failed first baseman whose father taught him how to throw the knuckleball when he was a kid, Wakefield has found that it's a blessing and a curse. Umpires throw knuckleballs back to him, just to be funny. Players are constantly hollering at him, "Wakesy! Catch mine!" Which Wakefield won't do. "You can get hurt!" he says. Ask his former Pirates teammate Bob Walk about it. Wakefield nearly broke Walk's kneecap playing catch one day.

In 2006, Boston signed John Flaherty as a backup catcher. His first spring training game, he caught Wakefield. The next day he retired.

As for Wakefield, it doesnt look as if hell ever retire. He missed a start with a bad back last Friday but his arm looks like it could go on forever. Knuckleball god Hoyt Wilhehn threw the pitch until he was 49; Phil Niekro did it till he was 48. Asked if he might try to last until he's 50—which would be his 24th season—Wakefield answers, "Why not?"

Who'd have thought making things wobble and weave would be such steady work?

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