FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -Healthy again, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield would like to pass Cy Young and Roger Clemens as the winningest pitcher in Red Sox history.
Quite an impressive goal for a player who seemed near tears less than four months ago when he announced he wouldn't pitch in the World Series because of a shoulder injury.
``The hardest thing to do is to take yourself out,'' Wakefield said Friday, ``to not think of yourself but think of the team. As an athlete or as a competitor, it's hard to do that.''
Rather than take his turn in the rotation not knowing how long he could pitch, he chose to give up his roster spot. The player who started in his place, Jon Lester, pitched 5 2-3 shutout innings in Boston's 4-3 win over Colorado that completed a four-game sweep.
Doctors told Wakefield that if he pitched in the Series he might need surgery on the inflamed shoulder in which he had torn cartilage. He was worried that an operation might sideline him for all of the 2008 season.
is teammates were winning their second championship in four years. Had the injury occurred earlier in the season, he said, he might have been able to return after just a 15-day stint on the disabled list.
Now he faces a brighter future, one that fans assume is natural for knuckleballers - pitching well into his 40s. If he does, he could overtake Young and Clemens, who each had 192 wins with the Red Sox.
Wakefield trails by 38 with 154 wins for Boston. Wakefield, who turns 42 in August, has 168 career victories.
``I'd like to get to 200 wins and I'd like to maybe tie or break Cy Young or Roger Clemens' record for all-time Red Sox (wins) but I don't know of that's possible,'' Wakefield said.
``If I win 20 games the next two years, it's possible,'' he said with a laugh. ``It's probably within reach if I can play for four more years.''
Knuckleballer Phil Niekro retired at age 48 after pitching 24 years. Another knuckleballer, Charlie Hough, retired at age 46 after 25 seasons.
Wakefield is entering his 16th season. He matched his career high last year in going 17-12.
``He's in good shape and we'll see when we talk to him how he wants to approach this spring,'' general manager Theo Epstein said. ``I think he's approaching it as any other year, looking to give us a lot of innings.''
Wakefield pitched 189 innings in 31 starts last season. He got a decision in each of his first 26 starts, the longest such streak since 1993, when Jack McDowell had decisions in his first 27 starts with the Chicago White Sox.
Wakefield pitched at least 180 innings in eight of his nine seasons as a full-time starter with Boston.
But in his mid 30s he began noticing that it took longer for him to recover from his starts. Hough told Wakefield this offseason that his own pitching wasn't as sharp after he turned 40.
``I hear it all the time, `Ah, you throw a knuckleball. You can pitch till you're 50,''' Wakefield said. ``But it's not as easy as people think it is, even though it looks easy on TV or in person.
``The ball's only going 65 (mph), but you're still putting a lot of strain and stresses on your arm and your body and the older I get, the harder it is.''
He hasn't decided how long he wants to pitch. The Red Sox have an option to renew his contract on an annual basis at its current value of $4 million.
But one of the most emotional times of his career, pulling out of the World Series, seems like a long time ago.
``You train and you play for a whole season to get to that point and not being able to perform on the biggest stage, I was disappointed,'' Wakefield said. ``But, I think, from a team standpoint it was the right decision.''
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