- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

BOSTON | Red Sox manager Terry Francona thinks he might be seeing Tim Wakefield at his best - strong words, considering the knuckleballer won 14 of his first 15 starts in Boston.

That was back in 1995, long before the soon-to-be 42-year-old righty became a mainstay of the Red Sox rotation.

“Everything’s been clicking for me,” Wakefield said after pitching seven innings of two-hit ball to take advantage of another offensive outburst and beat Baltimore 12-1 on Saturday night. “I don’t want to change anything. I’ve been on a run and hopefully I can keep doing that.”

Kevin Youkilis’ first career grand slam helped him tally his first six-RBI game, and J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez homered on consecutive pitches in the first inning to stake Wakefield (6-6) to an early lead. He responded by retiring the last 13 batters he faced before leaving after seven - the eighth time in nine starts he’s gone that far.

“I think that’s actually the best I’ve seen him pitch,” said Francona, who had to leave Wakefield off the World Series roster last fall because of lingering back and shoulder problems. “He worked hard to stay where he is. When last year ended, and he wasn’t able to pitch, it was very important to him to come back and take the ball when it’s his turn.”

Youkilis, who had four RBI in Boston’s 18-5 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday, homered in the third when the Red Sox scored seven times to chase Radhames Liz (3-2). Youkilis also added a sacrifice fly in the fourth and a run-scoring infield single in the eighth.

Wakefield went at least seven innings in seven straight games before lasting 6 1/3 last Sunday. But he had just two wins to show for the streak, with three losses in which the Red Sox scored a total of five runs and two no-decisions when the bullpen blew the lead.

“I was the beneficiary of a lot of runs scored tonight,” Wakefield said. “So that made my job a lot easier after the third inning.”

He walked Adam Jones with one out in the third and didn’t allow another base runner. Jones went to second on a passed ball - the only base runner besides Ramon Hernandez, who hit a solo homer, to get that far against the Boston starter.

“He’s the most underrated pitcher I think there is in the big leagues,” former teammate Kevin Millar said. “You’ve just got to stop the bleeding. We were down by a lot of runs early and Wakefield was throwing strikes.”

Liz, who allowed eight runs in 2 1/3 innings, has given up 12 earned runs in six innings over two starts since starting the season 3-0. He also walked three and hit a batter, all in the third inning when the Red Sox scored as many runs to support Wakefield as they had in his six losses this season combined.

“He walked three guys, hit a guy, and the wheels were off the wagon after that,” said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, who was ejected for arguing a called third strike against Millar to end the top of the seventh. “It just seems like once he gets in trouble he can’t get himself out of it.”

Dustin Pedroia singled with one out, then Drew walked, Ramirez was hit by a pitch and Mike Lowell drew a run-scoring walk. Youkilis followed with his 15th homer, a shot high into the seats above the Green Monster that made it 7-1.

Sean Casey walked to end Liz’s night, then Lance Cormier gave up singles to Kevin Cash and Jacoby Ellsbury before Pedroia hit a two-run double to give Boston a 9-1 lead.

Nick Markakis doubled off Mike Timlin in the ninth for the third hit by the Orioles, who had lost five in a row before beating Boston 7-3 in the series opener Friday.

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