Wakefield pitches gem against Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona isn't joking when he says it all starts with pitching.

That could end up being the understatement of the season if the starting rotation for the Red Sox continues to do what it has done the last two games. After Daisuke Matsuzaka nearly tossed a no-hitter against the Phillies in a 5-0 victory on Saturday, teammate Tim Wakefield worked eight shutout innings en route to an 8-3 win on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

"That thing was dancing all over the place," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He was great today. We've gotten some good pitching performances the last few days and that definitely helps and now we need to do it against Tampa and try to shut them down."

With Josh Beckett on the 15-day disabled list with a back strain, Wakefield made his sixth start this season and earned his first victory since July 8, 2009, against Oakland. The 44-year-old becomes the oldest American League pitcher to work eight shutout innings since Charlie Hough accomplished the feat on July 20, 1992.

The victory was the 190th of his career and 176th with the Red Sox, leaving him 16 shy of the franchise record, which is shared by Cy Young and Roger Clemens.

Wakefield's performance against the Phillies was just another indication the Red Sox are getting on a roll. Other than John Lackey's hiccup here on Friday, Boston's rotation had a solid week with Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Matsuzaka and Wakefield all earning wins.

"Somebody asked me the other day if I thought [good pitching] was contagious. If it is I hope we get an epidemic," said Francona. "It's a good way to play the game. It relaxes everybody and you don't have to score a bunch of runs earlier or play catch-up. It allows your offense to take a deep breath."

It's been a trying season for Wakefield.

After offseason back surgery, he arrived at spring training healthy and ready to remain a cog in the team's rotation. But when all six starters were healthy, Wakefield was forced to the bullpen. He didn't hold back his displeasure, but every time he's been given the ball, he's been good.

Of his six starts, four have been quality ones.

"Wake came out and did a great job against a good lineup," said Francona. "He threw a bunch of strikes, we played good defense and he allowed our bats time to work going up against [Phillies starter Roy] Halladay."

In his own way, Wakefield made a statement with his outing.

"It was very satisfying," he said. "I felt like I had pretty good feel with everything today and our offense made my job a lot easier scoring a lot of runs off Halladay today."

Wakefield said he didn't realize it had been 11 months since his last victory. When Francona removed him from the game after eight innings, it meant Wakefield's chance at a complete-game shutout went kaput.

"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "It's not a big deal. I went eight, that's a positive."

Francona wanted to send him back out for the ninth inning, but the veteran told his manager he had enough and was done for the day.

Not only did Wakefield produce on the mound, he also got the job done in the sixth, laying down a sacrifice bunt to move two baserunners over. Both scored on Jacoby Ellsbury's infield single in the following at-bat, making it 7-0 and ending Halladay's afternoon.

"I was scared to death, considering I didn't take any batting practices the last couple of weeks," he said. "Especially facing Doc Halladay, he's a pretty tough pitcher to face. I took two swings off of him and got a bunt down, that's all that matters."

What really matters is the fact the Red Sox have won five of their last six games as they head to Tampa to face the first-place Rays in a three-game set at Tropicana Field. As the Sox left Philadelphia on Sunday, they were feeling pretty good about themselves.

"We hope," said Pedroia. "We're swinging the bats good. We're finding ways to win. We're pitching good and we're playing good defense. It doesn't really matter who we play. If we play up to our capabilities we should be able to beat teams."

It all starts with pitching, and Boston is starting to get it.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.