Celtics

McAdam: It was quite a ride for Wakefield

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McAdam: It was quite a ride for Wakefield

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the Red Sox rescued Tim Wakefield from the scrap heap in 1995, no one -- not then-general manager Dan Duquette, nor Wakefield himself -- could have forecast that his career with the team would last another 17 seasons.

At the time, Wakefield had just been released by the Pittsburgh Pirates after a season in which he was, arguably, the worst pitcher in pro ball. Consigned to Triple A Buffalo, Wakefield had either led the league or came dangerously close to leading the league in virtually every negative category: wild pitches, walks, hits allowed and ERA.

Wakefield was so bad that it wasn't clear he could pitch in the minor leagues, let alone the majors.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that "there are no second acts in American lives,'' but Wakefield proved that false. On the brink of athletic extinction, Wakefield played for parts of three decades and came close to retiring as the winningest pitcher for a franchise whose history dates back more than a century.

That's a pretty good second act, no?

Wakefield's long travelogue -- from out-of-nowhere postseason phenom in 1992 to nearly out of baseball three years later, to pitching in parts of three decades for the Red Sox -- ended Friday when the pitcher announced his retirement.

Along the way, he won two World Series, logged more innings and recorded more strikeouts than all but a few Red Sox pitchers in history, and got himself mentioned with the likes of Cy Young and Roger Clemens.

He made an All-Star team near the end of his career, got himself into the record books and won 200 games in the big leagues, almost all of them after he had every reason to believe that his career was over almost as quickly as it began.

It could be said, actually, that Wakefield not only had a second act, but really, a third, since he was almost released by the Pirates once before at Single A when it was determined that he wasn't going to make it as a first baseman.

An alert instructor in the Pirates' organization mentioned that Wakefield had toyed with a knuckleball on the side and perhaps, he should be given a chance to make it as a pitcher.

Two hundred major-league wins later, that seems like a prescient call.

Wakefield played for five managers and too many pitching coaches to count, some of whom who were clearly unsure how to, well, coach him and his enigmatic, signature pitch.

After winning 59 games in his first four seasons, Wakefield was, much to his displeasure, shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation. When Tom Gordon blew out his elbow in 1999, Wakefield took over as closer and saved 15 games.

Too often, though, Wakefield would relieve one day, fill in as a starter two days later and be back in the bullpen a day after that.

More than once -- and not without reason -- he proclaimed: "They're abusing my versatility.''

His career bridges two distinct eras in Red Sox history: pre-Glory Days, when the franchise was mired in disappointment and heartbreak, and post-World Series triumphs, when, for a period of about five years, they were the sport's model franchise.

He was the one Red Sox player in modern history to have been on a losing team (78-84 in 1997) and two title winners. Like his trademark pitch, Wakefield was up, down and everywhere in between in his 17 seasons in a Red Sox uniform.

Somewhat cruelly, his role in the 2004 and 2007 postseason was slight. In Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, with the Sox on the verge of being ignominiously swept by the Yankees, Wakefield volunteered to pitch in relief of beleaguered starter Bronson Arroyo, thereby forfeiting his own start in Game 5. He started Game 1 of the World Series and couldn't get out of the fourth inning.

In 2007, after one start in the ALCS, he was left off the World Series because of an injury.

But each season, Wakefield helped the Red Sox get there, contributing 188 13 innings in 2004 and 189 in 2007.

Along the way, whether scarred by his release or in fear of the wholly unpredictable nature of pitch with which he made his living, Wakefield seemed gripped by insecurity, suggesting he was somehow unaware of his own permanence.

But the list of players who lasted more seasons in a Red Sox uniform is a short one, and filled with immortals: Ted Williams (19 seasons), Dwight Evans (19 seasons) and Carl Yastrzemski (23 seasons).

His final season with the Red Sox was tainted by a seemingly endless quest for career victory No. 200, which he reached on his ninth try. At times, instead of a remarkable achievement, it seemed more like a task to be crossed off the organization's to-do list.

That uncomfortable environment, more than anything, is probably why the Red Sox did not elect to bring Wakefield back for his 18th season, one in which he could have become the franchise's all-time winningest pitcher.

Wakefield, in a moment he surely wishes he could have back, told FoxSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi late last September that the fans "deserved'' to see him come back and go for the club record -- just as the Red Sox were finishing off one of the worst months in franchise history.

So Wakefield heads off into retirement, short on credentials for Cooperstown and tantalizingly close to the record for most wins by a Red Sox pitcher.

Still, it's not a bad legacy for a player to have won 200 games and two championships plus the reputation for being arguably the most charitable and philanthropic player in modern Red Sox history.

Not bad at all, in fact, for an American life in its third act.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Heat in Miami. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Will Celtics be drained by emotional comeback win Monday in Dallas?

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

The Boston Celtics remain a team whose collective talents are far more valuable than their individual abilities.

But there are going to be nights when someone has to shoulder a larger burden of the team in order to win. More often than not, that “one” will likely be No. 11, Kyrie Irving. 

We saw in Dallas what can happen when Irving feels he has little choice but to put the team on his back and carry them to victory. 

The Celtics were desperate for a spark against the Mavericks and found it in Irving, who scored 47 points in leading the Celtics to a come-from-behind 110-102 overtime win. 

It remains to be seen if the Celtics will require a similar Herculean effort tonight when they take the Miami Heat with a chance to extend their winning streak to 17 straight. 

This team isn’t one to dwell on success in the past, even if the past was just 24 hours ago. But there’s no getting around how what happened on Monday night might impact what we see against the Heat. 

Boston expended a tremendous amount of energy in rallying from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter at Dallas, the kind of effort that may be difficult to replicate against a Miami team that you can count on to play hard from the opening tip to the final horn. 

Irving’s performance was one of the rare instances this season when Boston clearly could not have won without their top scorer having a big game. 

“When we needed it most, he made big shot after big shot,” said Al Horford. “He had such good rhythm, I was thinking, ‘just let him keep it going.’ He just kept being aggressive, taking really good shots. He recognized he needed to be extra aggressive, especially at the end and score the ball for us.”

Scoring could potentially be at a premium against Miami which allows 102.5 points per game which ranks ninth in the league in fewest points allowed. Also, the Heat will test Boston’s perimeter defenders. Miami comes into tonight’s game averaging 11.1 made 3-pointers per game which ranks ninth in the NBA. 

The Heat are led by Goran Dragic who is averaging team highs in scoring (18.3 points) and assists (4.7) this season. 

These two squared off earlier this season in Miami with the Celtics coming away with a 96-90 win as Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the way with 24 and 20 points, respectively. In that game, the Heat were without starting center Hassan Whiteside, who will be in the lineup tonight as the Heat try to bounce back after losing three of its last four games.

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