was hitting .182 in San Diego, and Boston still had to throw in a good reliever
and 100 grand.
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."
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?
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
RIFFS OF REILLY
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