Tim Wakefield, the knuckleballing workhorse of the Red Sox pitching staff who bounced back after giving up a season-ending home run to the Yankees in the 2003 playoffs to help Boston win its curse-busting World Series title the following year, has died. He was 57.

The Red Sox announced his death in a statement Sunday. Wakefield had brain cancer, according to former teammate Curt Schilling, who disclosed the illness on a podcast last week without Wakefield's consent. The Red Sox confirmed an illness at the time but did not elaborate, saying Wakefield had requested privacy.

"Tim's kindness and indomitable spirit were as legendary as his knuckleball," Red Sox owner John Henry said in a statement. "He not only captivated us on the field but was the rare athlete whose legacy extended beyond the record books to the countless lives he touched with his warmth and genuine spirit. He had a remarkable ability to uplift, inspire, and connect with others in a way that showed us the true definition of greatness. He embodied the very best of what it means to be a member of the Boston Red Sox and his loss is felt deeply by all of us."

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a first baseman who set home run records in college, Wakefield converted to a pitcher after mastering the knuckleball in the minor leagues. Relying on the old-timey pitch that had largely fallen into disuse, he went on to win 200 major league games, including 186 with the Red Sox -- behind only Cy Young and Roger Clemens in franchise history.

But it was his role in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry of the early 2000s that turned Wakefield into a fan favorite whose impact went far beyond his numbers.

After New York rallied to tie Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, Wakefield came on in relief in the 11th inning and Aaron Boone hit his first pitch for a walk-off home run to end Boston's season and extend a World Series drought that stretched back to 1918.

The following October, with Boston's season again at risk against the Yankees in the ALCS, Wakefield got nine outs in extra innings of Game 5, setting up David Ortiz to win it in the 14th. The Red Sox went on to complete their comeback from a 3-0 series deficit and then sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to claim their first championship in 86 years.

"He was a great competitor when he took that mound," former teammate Kevin Youkilis said on the broadcast of Sunday's Red Sox game. "He was just a great teammate and just a great friend. Had the luxury of playing with him on the field, in the booth, and just glad that I had the opportunity over the years to be alongside of him."

The Red Sox -- and Wakefield -- won it all again in 2007.

"There were some years there where I didn't know if I was going to come back or not," Wakefield said at his 2012 retirement news conference. "But I'm very grateful that I've been able to put this uniform on for such a long time and win two World Series for this great city."

Wakefield was 11-3 when he made his only All-Star Game in 2009, becoming the second-oldest player (Satchel Paige was the oldest) ever selected to his first Midsummer Classic. Wakefield was the oldest player in baseball at 45 when he earned his 200th win in September 2011, retiring the final six batters he faced.

He announced his retirement the following spring training, seven wins short of breaking the franchise record held by Clemens and Young.

"I'm still a competitor, but ultimately I think this is what's best for the Red Sox," Wakefield said at the time. "I think this is what's best for my family. And to be honest with you, seven wins isn't going to make me a different person or a better man. So my family really needs me at home."

An eighth-round draft pick in 1988, Wakefield converted to a pitcher two years later in an effort to revive his chances of making the majors. He got his call-up midway through the 1992 season and went 8-1, finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.

He added two complete games in the NLCS -- one in Game 6 to keep Pittsburgh alive. He was voted the MVP of the series late in Game 7, before the Atlanta Braves rallied to win on Francisco Cabrera's single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

"[Wakefield] made his big league debut in 1992 and was a key addition to the pitching staff that helped propel the team to its third consecutive Postseason appearance," the Pirates said in a statement. "Off the field, Tim always devoted his time to make an impact on others within the Pittsburgh community. He was a great man who will be dearly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time."

But Wakefield was unable to recapture his success in his second year in Pittsburgh, going 6-11 with a 5.61 ERA. He was released by the Pirates after another trip through the minors and was signed six days later by the Red Sox.

Wakefield again strung together a dominant run, starting 14-1 in 1995 before finishing the year at 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA. After 17 seasons with Boston, he retired as the franchise leader with 3,006 innings and 430 starts and second in games and strikeouts.

In all, he was 200-180 with a 4.41 ERA.

Wakefield was also an eight-time nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award that goes to a ballplayer for exemplary sportsmanship and community involvement, winning it in 2010. After retiring, he became an analyst for Red Sox broadcasts and remained active in the team's charities.

"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Tim's family, his friends and teammates across the game, and Red Sox fans everywhere," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "We will continue to support our partners at Stand Up To Cancer in the memory of Tim and all those who are in the fight against this disease."

Wakefield is survived by his wife, Stacy -- who is also battling cancer -- and their children, Trevor and Brianna.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

2023-10-01T19:16:55Z dg43tfdfdgfd