By: Bob George/
February 17, 2012

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Here is the most famous pitching line in Red Sox history: 3 1/3 innings, 5 hits, 5 earned runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout, 14.54 ERA.

Awful numbers. But this was the linchpin for the first Red Sox World Series win since World War I.

Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS was the embodiment of the career of Tim Wakefield. Slated to start in Game 4, with the Red Sox trailing the Yankees 9-6 in the game and 2-0 in the series, Wakefield went to manager Terry Francona and volunteered to go in and pitch. Yes, Wakefield did get hammered, as the Yankees would go on to win the game, 19-8 and take a 3-0 series lead. But the key number in that aforementioned pitching line is the 3 1/3 innings pitched. Wakefield "took one for the team" in the most noble way possible.

Wakefield's sacrifice was the linchpin for the greatest comeback in MLB postseason history. Francona noted after the game that because of what Wakefield did, "we were able to stay away from (Mike) Timlin and (Keith) Foulke." Francona added that "when we win tomorrow (Game 4), we'll have Wake to thank for that." They did much better than that, as they would go on to win the next four games and become the first team ever to win a postseason series after being down 3-0 in games. They actually won the next eight, as they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the subsequent World Series. Wakefield did get credit for the win in the 14-inning Game 5 which sent the ALCS back to New York.

Wakefield announced his retirement from baseball on Friday, the announcement coming at brand spanking new JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, in front of the new Green Monster with his name appearing in the linescore on the new scoreboard. With his wife Stacy and two children with him, Wakefield delivered an emotional address in saying goodbye to the Red Sox and his 19-year MLB career. He made it clear that he wanted to retire a Red Sox, and he got to do just that.

Wakefield's final season in Boston was not without some adversity. He did appear in the now-infamous Kevin Fowler C&W video, albeit for one brief clip. And much was made about his pursuit of becoming the all-time leader in pitcher wins in Sox history, saying that "Fans deserve to see me try for the record." After his dogged and at times aggravating attempt at his 200th win, which he finally did get, it is a relief that he will now not try and equal or beat the 192 wins of Cy Young and Roger Clemens.

But Wakefield will be forever remembered as a consummate professional, the 2004 Game 3 against the Yankees perhaps his finest moment despite the outing being a bad one statistically, Wakefield did whatever the team needed him to do, and never complained. He was to the Red Sox what Troy Brown was to the Patriots, in many ways.

Both Brown and Wakefield had careers in these parts of similar length. Both men were exemplary clubhouse guys. Both men were solid community fixtures. And both men performed varied on-field tasks which helped their teams win. Brown and Wakefield have five rings amongst them, and every ring has their imprint on them.

Brown did many things in addition to his wide receiver skills. He returned kickoffs, he returned punts, and in 2004 even did time as a defensive back when the cornerback position was depleted due to injury. He was tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, the first of them coming off his former quarterback, Drew Bledsoe.

Wakefield did literally everything a pitcher could do. He started, he mopped up, he set up, and he even closed for a while. He has 22 career saves, with 15 of them coming in 1999 in a year where the Red Sox made it to the ALCS before losing in five games to the Yankees. He was an All-Star in 2009, had 11 seasons of double-digit wins, and pitched in 3,006 innings for the Red Sox. Since being scooped up as a free agent in 1995 after two seasons with Pittsburgh (and a postseason stint in 1992), Wakefield had a stay with the Red Sox which is unusual in its longevity and its body of work.

Both Wakefield and Brown provided the sort of professionalism for their teams which at times can be underrated and difficult to quantify. But it is never underappreciated. Both men were revered by their teams and the fan bases in a special way. New England has a fan base which dials into these sorts of players who do embody the team concept to its fullest, and in the case of both Wakefield and Brown, they took it to another level.

Wakefield also gave to his team by not playing. In 2007, when the Red Sox went to the World Series, Wakefield gave up his roster spot so Jon Lester, who at the time was recovering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, could pitch in the World Series. Wakefield reasoned that Lester gave his team a better chance to win it all, and Lester was the winning pitcher in the clinching Game 4 at Denver. In a postgame interview with NESN, Timlin interrupted Don Orsillo and Wakefield and told the New England audience what sacrifice Wakefield made, how much he and the team loved him as a player and as a man, and what he meant to the team. Wakefield broke down and sobbed as Timlin sang his praises on live television.

The fan base's affection for Wakefield enabled him to overcome one of the darkest moments in team history. Wakefield did surrender the pennant-winning home run to Aaron Boone in 2003. But nobody blamed Wakefield, who cried in the locker room after the game. The game should never have been in the 12th inning in the first place, if Grady Little had removed Pedro Martinez in the eighth like he should have. Wakefield was able to bounce back and start Game 1 of the World Series at Fenway Park the very next year.

It was time for Wakefield to walk away. But given the dilapidated state of the Red Sox now in the wake of the biggest collapse in MLB history, losing a clubhouse guy like Wakefield has its downside. The Red Sox have a new manager in Bobby Valentine, and a lot of attitude changing that has to take place. Wakefield would have been an integral part of that change. Maybe he would be the one to stand up and apologize for last season, and atone for his role in that C&W video, however minor it was.

Instead, Wakefield will leave the game, and a stunning legacy will remain with him forever. Baseball needs more pro's pros like Wakefield, who stay with one team for a long time and do whatever it takes for his team to win. Brown had the same loyalty to the Patriots, and replacing him has been hard to do since he left the Patriots in 2007.

Fans love guys like Wakefield. When he gets his day at Fenway, everyone should stand up and cheer a long time for this guy.