The team needed pitching and the general manager found it - snatching a project starter 20 minutes after he cleared waivers by dangling the major-league minimum in front of him.
“That,” said the manager, “is why it’s fun to work for an aggressive, creative general manager.”
No, that wasn’t Lou Piniella talking about Woody Woodward.
It was Kevin Kennedy talking about Boston GM Dan Duquette, minutes after the Red Sox had beaten the Mariners in 10 innings Sunday, 2-1 - behind winning pitcher Tim Wakefield, the man Duquette had found on the waiver wire.
Wakefield and Tim Belcher had locked into a duel for nine innings Sunday at Fenway Park, with neither allowing a run in that span. Then, after 122 near-perfect knuckleballs to home plate, Wakefield all but lost the game with one bad throw to second base.
Wakefield’s error on a potential doubleplay grounder gave Seattle a 1-0 lead in the 10th inning.
Belcher had pitched nine innings, thrown a season-high 98 pitches. Three outs from a victory that would avert a Boston sweep, Piniella went to Bobby Ayala.
“What’s a closer for?” Piniella asked.
“I could have gone back out there,” Belcher said, “but Bobby’s one of the best closers in the game. The 10th inning, that’s uncharted territory for a starting pitcher. I’ve never been out there in the 10th - you can’t second-guess that. It was a good move.”
It didn’t work.
For the second time in three games here, Ayala couldn’t hold a one-run lead. Friday, he gave up a solo home run in the ninth inning that tied a game Seattle lost in 10. This time, there was no tie.
Ayala struck out Wes Chamberlain, gave up a single to pinch-hitter Bill Haselman and then left a split-fingered fastball - the pitch Mike MacFarlane hit out Friday - waist high to Troy O’Leary.
O’Leary hit it into the net atop the wall in left field.
“We had two of these three games won and we lost all three,” Piniella said. “We played good baseball. We just didn’t hold the lead in the end twice.”
Afterward, Ayala waved away the press.
Seattle was beaten by a pitcher the Pittsburgh Pirates released in spring training, a right-handed knuckleball specialist available to anyone in baseball. Boston, badly in need of a No. 4 or No. 5 starter, grabbed him.
Seattle is still looking for a No. 4 and No. 5 starter who can win, while Wakefield’s record this season is 3-0, his earned-run average 0.37. Could he have been a Mariner?
“They didn’t call,” Wakefield said Sunday. “The Red Sox did.”
Belcher, a man the Mariners acquired in trade last month, matched Wakefield zerofor-zero Sunday in the best pitching duel Seattle had been a part of this season.
“After all the home-run derbies, it was was kind of nice to see an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel,” Belcher said.
Though Wakefield and Belcher each allowed five hits in the first nine innings, both had to work out of problem innings that could have ended this one in regulation.
Belcher stranded a Boston runner at third base in the fifth and eighth innings. Wakefield forced Seattle to leave Edgar Martinez at third base in the fourth inning and was helped twice by pick-off plays that nailed two Mariners runners at first base.
Belcher was the conventional pitcher Sunday, relying on two fastballs, a four-seamer that ran away from hitters, a two-seamer that sank, and an assortment of changed-speeds breaking stuff.
Wakefield? In 10 innings, he threw four or five fastballs and more knuckleballs than most Mariners had ever seen.
“I hadn’t seen a knuckleball since Charlie Hough, what, 3-4 years ago?” Edgar Martinez said.
Added Tino Martinez, who had one of Seattle’s two hits: “You tell yourself to be patient, to wait, but then this pitches floats across the plate belt high and you want to crush it. It’s not like you take batting practice against that pitch. He threw it for strikes.”
There was a frightening moment for the Boston faithful Sunday in the sixth inning, when Belcher threw a fastball up and in to shortstop John Valentin and hit him in the head. Conscious, he left the game and was sent to a hospital for X-rays.
“I know Tim Belcher well enough to know he’s not a head-hunter,” Kennedy said.
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