Tim Wakefield inches closer to mark

BOSTON -- Tim Wakefield would love to know what's next for him in his career with the Boston Red Sox.

He's not talking about next season. He's more concerned with tomorrow.

Wakefield's legacy is important to him, and it seems every time he toes the rubber this season something different happens. One night he's starting. The next he's relieving.

Either way, he's inching closer to his ultimate goal of becoming the Red Sox's all-time leader in wins. But he's not there yet.

He did, however, set another record with his victory on Wednesday, helping the Red Sox to an 11-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

At 44 years and 37 days, Wakefield became the oldest pitcher in Red Sox history to record a win, surpassing Dennis Eckersley.

Asked if the record means something to him, Wakefield said, "It does. It means a lot, considering I've been here for 16 years. Any time you can have some kind of milestone is very important and I'm very proud to do it in a Red Sox uniform."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona admitted the club was sloppy in some areas Wednesday, but the offense was given a boost by hitting four home runs off Rays starter Matt Garza.

"Considering the circumstances, [Wakefield] hasn't been starting a lot, but when we scored like we did, he ends up with a win. Good for him," Francona said.

Wakefield now has 193 wins, placing him third among active pitchers behind the Phillies' Jamie Moyer (267) and the Yankees' Andy Pettitte (240).

"Nothing can compare to winning games," Wakefield said. "That's our job, to go out there and win as many games as possible, especially the situation we're in now. Every game is important from here on out. We're trying to catch Tampa or New York or Chicago. Every day is a must win."

That goal clearly is a long shot. And given the uncertainty of his role for the rest of this season, not to mention 2011, Wakefield's individual goal also has to be considered less than a sure thing.

He sits 13 wins shy of tying Roger Clemens and Cy Young for most wins (192) in Red Sox history. And every time he's able to post a "W," he realizes he's that much closer at rewriting the books.

"I hope I'll get an opportunity to try to get that," Wakefield said. "Obviously, it's important to me and hopefully I'll get some opportunities to reach that milestone."

Asked which milestone is more important to him -- 193 wins with the Red Sox or 200 career wins -- the answer was an easy one.

Without hesitation, he said: "193."

On Wednesday, Wakefield worked five innings and allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts to earn his first victory since July 2 against Baltimore.

"It's been a while," Wakefield said.

The Sox entered spring training with six starting pitchers, with Wakefield and Clay Buchholz seemingly fighting for the fifth spot. But Buchholz quickly emerged as one of the top pitchers in the American League. A variety of injuries, primarily to Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, meant Wakefield took regular turns in the rotation most of the first half, save a couple of weeks in May. But when the staff reached full health in July, Wakefield was bumped to the bullpen.

Wednesday was Wakefield's second start since then, but shuffling between the rotation and bullpen hasn't been easy. Mentally and physically, it's been a challenge. Wakefield has pitched in 29 games (18 starts) and has a 4-10 record with a 5.26 ERA.

"It's been difficult," Wakefield said. "I try to take it a day at a time and do the best that I can when I get called upon."

His role could change several times over the last few weeks of the season. He'll just show up to work and go from there. There have been days he's arrived at the ballpark and been told he's starting that night, as happened in his most recent outing when he had just an hour's notice because of an injury to Matsuzaka.

Clay Buchholz was originally scheduled to start against the Rays on Wednesday night, but when the slim playoff chances took a hit with a loss Tuesday, the call went to Wakefield.

Given his quest to catch the Rocket and Cy, Wakefield hopes to get a few more starts this season.

"I would love it, but I don't know if it's going to happen," he said. "They haven't told me anything. Nothing."

Because Wakefield has reached 130 innings pitched this season, his base salary for 2011 bumped up from $1.5 million to $2 million. But with so many unknowns for the remainder of this season and next, Wakefield is trying to keep his emotions in check.

"I'll deal with it day by day," Wakefield said.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.