Wake Can't Shoulder The Series

BOSTON—With dark circles under his eyes and his face frozen in a grim frown, Tim Wakefield didn't have to say a word to confirm he was the most miserable man in a building otherwise happily ensconced in World Series preparations.

Better a bit of heartache now, though, than an ache in the back of his shoulder he cannot fix later.

Wakefield, who has battled inflammation in his right shoulder for two months, will not be on the Red Sox 25-man roster for the World Series, which starts Wednesday when Josh Beckett opposes the Rockies' Jeff Francis.

Terry Francona didn't commit to any starters beyond Game Three—Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka will follow Beckett in Games Two and Three—a but the Game Four start will likely be taken by Jon Lester, who threw a four-inning simulated game Tuesday. Lester is the only other starting pitcher on the roster, which was announced by the Sox earlier this evening.

"This stinks for me," Wakefield said during an unusually informative workout day press conference with Francona. "As a competitor, I want to be out there competing. This is the ultimate stage. This is where I've worked hard from spring training through the course of the season to get to this point, and now I can't be available.

"I mean, it sucks, to put it bluntly."

The Sox weren't any happier to move forward without Wakefield, who has been with the Sox since 1995 and commands more respect within the organization than any other player. Francona referenced Wakefield's "lack of availability" in his opening remarks, but left the explanation to Wakefield, who arrived a few minutes later.

When Wakefield walked on to the dais at the Players Club, Francona—seated in the middle chair—got up and moved one seat over so that Wakefield could sit in the middle.

And even as Wakefield and Francona spoke in general terms about Wakefield's impending absence, it took until the last question of the session for Francona to actually say the words "Wake is not on the roster."

Said Francona earlier: "That's part of the reason ‘Wake' is sitting here now, because of our respect and regard for him—that it wasn't just a move made on paper and we'll go on."

Short- and long-term concerns led to the decision to shelve Wakefield, who said he could pitch but that he would not be at 100 percent and that he didn't think he could take the mound more than once because it has taken him progressively longer to recover from a start. The Sox who hoped to start Wakefield, their number four starter during the season, in Games Two and Six at Fenway Park instead of in Game Four in Denver, where the mile high air can wreck havoc with off-speed pitches.

"I've been taking medicine, been seeing the doctors, seeing the trainers, trying to get this stuff out because I knew what was going to take place in the World Series and I wanted to be able to be ready to start Games Two and Six," Wakefield said. "I could start Game Two, but I can't promise you I could start Game Six right now. And I don't think that's the right decision to make."

Wakefield missed a start Sept. 1—rookie Clay Buchholz was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket and threw a no-hitter—before making each of his final five scheduled regular season starts. But he had an 8.76 ERA in that span, during which he had two cortisone shots, and was left off the AL Division Series roster due to the shoulder woes. He returned to start Game Four of the AL Championship Series, when he had a one-hitter through four innings before he was battered for five runs and four hits while recording just two outs in the fifth.

He said Tuesday he felt good in Cleveland but that he has been battling pain every day since. He was barely able to complete a side session Sunday and said he was barely able to throw it at 75 percent.

"Dealing with this problem that I've had for the past two months, it seems like my recovery time is getting longer and longer and longer, and I just don't think it's fair to the other 24 guys on this team that I go out there and maybe I pitch well and maybe I don't and then I'm not available for the rest of the series," Wakefield said.

Or, in the worst-case scenario, a lot longer than that. Wakefield said team doctors believed his risk of suffering a serious injury was minimal in September, but that the continued swelling in his shoulder put him in danger of suffering permanent damage. Wakefield, who turned 41 in August, has often spoke of how he'd like to pitch deep into his 40s like his knuckleballing mentors Phil Niekro, Joe Niekro and Charlie Hough.

"If I continue to do this, based on the information I'm getting from the doctors, I'm seriously at risk of injuring myself for the rest of my life," Wakefield said. "So that had a lot of weight in my decision, even though it's the World Series and Tito has been around me—and a lot of you guys have been around me—long enough to know I'll go out there at 50 percent. I don't care.

"But again, like I alluded to before, I don't think it's fair to the 24 guys that are in that clubhouse, and I don't think it's fair to the organization and I don't think it's fair to me, lastly, that I go out there and injure myself and I'm not available for next year or the year after."

It remains to be seen how this injury affects the Sox' plans for Wakefield, who has been a rotation mainstay since 2003 and signed a one-year deal with annual team options worth $4 million early in the 2005 season. This marks the second straight year he's battled a nagging injury—he missed nearly two months last summer with a broken rib—and he's posted an ERA below 4.50 once in the last four years. In addition, the Sox have Lester and Buchholz ready to join Beckett and Matsuzaka as regular starters next season.

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE

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