Column: Wakefield flirts with glory at Tropicana Field

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are statistically the worst team in baseball.The fact is so certain that some people aren’t aware Tampa Bay even hasa team.

However, the Boston Red Sox are familiar with the Rays, after all theyentered Tuesday’s game leading the season series 6-0. Tim Wakefield tookthe mound against Tampa Bay (21-47) and retired nearly every batter theRays put in front of him, with the exception of four walks. By theseventh inning, fans for both teams looked at the scoreboard and sawthat the box score for Tampa Bay read 0 runs and 0 hits. As Boston’sknuckle ball pitcher Wakefield walked into his dugout, it was apparenthe was throwing a no-hitter. He knew it, and the fans certainly knew it.The crowd was larger than normal due to the local Red Sox loyalty, butby the beginning of the eighth inning it appeared as if no one had left.

Why would they? They had the chance to see a guy who throws an average64-mph junk ball throw a no-hitter, not usually a feat associated with aknuckle baller. Wakefield is a man who throws the same pitch every timehe gets on the mound. Granted, that pitch does drop a full 12 inches ormore and batters never know where it will drop.

At one point during the game, Wakefield even threw a fastball (clockedat a laughable 78 mph) to get a strike down the middle when he had afull count against Tampa?s Jason Tyner, who was waiting to get a walk.The Rays were trying everything to get base runners because theycertainly couldn?t get a hit off Wakefield.

While some fans have a valid point by calling no-hit baseball “boring,”fans were still in their seats during the eighth because it was gettingvery exciting. One by one, the Rays went three up and three down.However, Boston left fielder Troy O?Leary made a daring sliding catch tokeep his pitcher’s no-hitter alive.

As Wakefield made his eighth trip back to his dugout, nearly every fanwho could stand gave him a standing ovation. However, things weregetting tough for Wakefield when the ninth started. All he had to do wasget three outs. But this time, Tyner made it on base by hitting a slowground ball to the deep part of the infield between the first and secondbasemen. Thus, giving Boston second baseman Jose Offerman a tough playto beat out the fast Tyner who stepped on the bag at the same timeBoston first baseman Brian Daubach lifted his foot after Offerman?s highthrow. While some would say that was the hit that broke up theno-hitter, the official ruling called it an error on Offerman.

However, it was much ado about nothing because the next swing by TampaBay’s Randy Winn left Wakefield with a missed opportunity at achievingone of baseball?s greatest feats.

As the ball dropped in left field before O?Leary could get to it andTyner rounded second base, the marquee screen at Tropicana Field flashed”not in our house.”

Most of the fans in attendance jumped up in applause. Both Devil Ray andRed Sox fans joined in congratulating Wakefield at a great go at it andcheering for Winn?s solid hit.

It was respectable – it wasn’t considered “bush-league” like San DiegoPadres Ben Davis? drag bunt in the late innings against Diamondbacks’pitcher Curt Schilling that broke up his recent possible no-hitter.After giving up a hit to Winn and a walk to Fred McGriff, Wakefield wasrelieved from his duty and entered the Boston dugout to another standingovation.

It certainly was exciting to witness what could have possibly been ano-hitter. And while it doesn’t compare with the “perfect game,” notmuch does.

It’s a shame that the Devil Rays do not get a lot of support from theTampa Bay community, which has proven in the past to produce a lot ofbaseball talent and interest for spring training games. If only 12,950fans are in attendance to witness one of the greatest feats in baseballfor a pitcher, then Tampa Bay may just deserve to lose its team (ascontraction rumors are suggesting).

What made the increasingly exciting evening even more enjoyable for theTampa Bay fans who did show up was the introduction of Rays’ clutchhitter Steve Cox to face Boston’s closer Derek Lowe. While Cox doesn?thave the best batting average (.200) on the team, he seems to alwayscome up big when he’s needed. After Aubrey Huff’s sacrifice-out movedTyner and Winn into scoring position, Cox belted a blast that hit inchesbelow the top of the fence in deep center field to score two runners andgive himself a double.

The Devil Rays ended up losing the game 5-4, after a shutout was lookinginevitable. While no loss is an acceptable loss, the Rays proved to comeback in a game that would have killed any other team’s spirit.Tuesday night at Tropicana Field proved why we go to baseball games andwhy the Devil Rays need more support than they are getting. There wereso many Red Sox fans in attendance that when the marquee said, “not inour house,” it seemed ludicrous to imagine that Tampa was actually thehome team.

Instead, Wakefield and the Red Sox owned Tropicana Field (if only for 81/3 innings) and Tampa fans were willing to let him have it.

– William Albritton is a seniormajoring in masscommunications.