The knuckleballer will make his first appearance of this postseason on Tuesday night as the Red Sox look to draw even with the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series.
Wakefield was not on Boston’s postseason roster for the division series against the Los Angeles Angels due to back problems. The reliable veteran went 17-12 with a 4.76 ERA in 31 starts this year, but hasn’t pitched since Sept. 29.
“I really don’t have any concerns,” Wakefield insisted. “I was able to throw a simulated game last week in Boston. Went five innings, threw 77 pitches and got my work done in between there, and I feel ready to go tomorrow.”
The right-hander didn’t face Cleveland this year, and he’s 5-4 with a 4.82 ERA in 10 career starts at Jacobs Field. The 41-year-old Wakefield is 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA in four career LCS starts.
“I think when you get to this time of year, you have a great deal of challenges when it comes to the opposition, or they wouldn’t be here,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “Surely a knuckleball pitcher takes it to the extreme. It’s not something you see very much of anymore.”
There will be pressure on Wakefield and the Red Sox, who will be on the brink of elimination with a third straight loss. The Indians got a well-pitched game from Jake Westbrook to win 4-2 on Monday and take their first lead of the series.
Westbrook took a shutout into the seventh inning before he allowed a two-run homer to Jason Varitek. He scattered seven hits over 6 2-3 innings.
Three Cleveland relievers retired Boston’s final seven batters on Monday, extending the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 7 1-3 innings.
“Our bullpen has been working hard. Jake controlled the ballgame. He did a good job working ahead and keeping the ball on the ground,” Wedge said.
“It was a really pivotal point,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “Dice-K throws a fastball that runs, I think, middle in to Kenny, ends up being a big swing.”
Lofton has given the Indians a major boost. He’s hit safely in six of seven playoff games, batting .345 (10-for-29) with six RBIs.
“For a guy who’s been in the league for so long, there’s a bounce to his step and that excitement in his eyes,” Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko said. “For a young guy to see that out of Kenny, obviously you know how important this is.”
Cleveland improved to 3-0 at home in the postseason, partly by limiting Boston sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz to two hits in six at-bats and no runs scored. The duo combined to go 6-for-12 with seven runs in the first two games.
“We have to come in tomorrow and play hard,” Ortiz said. “We’ve been in worse situations, but we have to produce. It’s that simple.”
The Indians look for another solid outing from Paul Byrd (1-0, 3.60 ERA), who helped Cleveland clinch its division series against the New York Yankees. Byrd yielded two runs over five innings last Monday in a 6-4 win at Yankee Stadium.
This is the first time Byrd has pitched in the LCS since he went 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two outings for the Angels in 2005 against the Chicago White Sox.
“You know what you’re going to get from Paul. He knows himself very well,” Wedge said. “He’s pitched in a lot of big ballgames.”
The veteran right-hander had a better record at home (8-4) than on the road (7-4) this year, but had the fourth-highest home ERA in the majors at 5.68.
“I don’t know the answer to that, other than I had two absolute disaster outings here,” Byrd said. “I had a game against the Yankees, which I just got killed.”
Byrd is 4-2 with a 4.12 ERA in seven career starts against the Red Sox. He beat them on May 30 by yielding two runs over six innings in an 8-4 victory at Fenway Park.
Ramirez, who is just 2-for-14 lifetime against Byrd, is 7-for-17 (.412) with three homers, 10 RBIs and 10 walks in the postseason.