After Tim Wakefield surrendered the American League Championship Series-winning homerun to Aaron Boone in 2003, the devastated knuckleballer slumped inside the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, wept openly and said to a close friend, "I just became Bill Buckner."
Twelve months later when the Red Sox overcame a three games to none deficit and vanquished the hated Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, Wakefield was celebrating with teammates in the visiting clubhouse when Joe Torre called from the opposing locker room and asked to speak to him.
"It was probably one of the coolest things that ever happened to me. For him to call me during our celebration and wish me luck, to wish us luck and say he'd be rooting for us, it was very special," says Wakefield, whose new memoir, "Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch," chronicles his rollercoaster career.
The Melbourne, Fla., native was drafted in the 8th round of the 1988 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates -- as an infielder. His first season of minor league ball was less than encouraging: In 54 games he went 30 for 159 -- a .189 average -- with just nine extra-base hits.
"Pitchers overpowered him," writes Tony Massarotti, a Boston Globe sportswriter who co-authored "Knuckler."
Wakefield's chances of making it to the big leagues as a hitter were evaporating quickly. But during extended spring training, a Pirates coach had witnessed him playing catch with a teammate, confounding the other player with his bedazzling knuckleball. He'd learned the pitch as a boy from his father, Steve, who'd throw it to his son when games of catch were dragging on.
"It was something to basically tire me out," says Wakefield, laughing.
He didn't recognize the long-term value of the pitch.
"The knuckleball was more something I developed in high school, college, just to goof off."
But when his career as a hitter flamed out, it was the only valuable baseball commodity he had left.