BOSTON — Charlie Hough's achievement of being the oldest pitcher in Major League Baseball's modern era to throw consecutive complete games is still intact.
The famed knuckleballer was 44 years, 169 days old when he twirled consecutive gems on June 17 and June 22 in 1992.
Hough, now a minor league pitching coach, was in the clubhouse of the Inland Empire 66ers in San Bernandino, Calif. yesterday when he got word that someone about 3,000 miles away was knocking on the door of his accomplishment.
The fact that it was another knuckleballer, Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield — who pitched his second of back-to-back complete games yesterday at 42 years and 263 days old — was pleasant news.
"I love hearing that," said Hough. "I wish he would have been with the Marlins when I rapped up my career (in 1994). I had a feeling when I first saw him with the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league system, and then with the Pirates, he was going to do something special. I've always been a big Tim Wakefield fan."
Hough has a personal relationship with Wakefield that goes back to 2004, when former Red Sox pitching coach Dave Wallace asked him if he'd come to Boston for a "coaching" session.
It wasn't the first visit from a knuckleballing legend. Back in 1999, Phil Niekro was brought in by the Red Sox for a similar get-together at Fenway Park.
"I stopped by the year they eventually won World Series," said Hough. "Timmy was struggling a little bit. Maybe it was a little mental and a little physical. I didn't do much. I watched him a throw a little bit. And we just talked."
While yesterday's seven-inning, one-run, rain-shortened gem was a nice complement to Boston's six-game winning streak, Wakefield's complete game win on April 15 was something special.
Baseball's "best team on paper" stood at 2-6 to open the 2009 season, losers of six of seven games with a starting pitching staff that was reeling. Fellow Red Sox starters Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-1), Jon Lester (0-2) and even Josh Beckett (1-1) were all in underachieving mode.
Along came Wakefield, who appeared to be the odd man out at some point this offseason with the free agent acquisitions of Brad Penny and John Smoltz. "Wake" was near perfect, throwing no-hit ball through seven innings before finishing off the 8-2 win.
The Red Sox haven't lost since.
"Am I surprised? Hell, no," said Hough. "When big guys are supposed to win ball games and break down, Timmy comes in and gives his team a shot in the arm. He's been doing that his entire career."
Hough says he has always followed Wakefield's career from afar.
One of the first thing he does when he gets home from the park every night, especially if he knows that Wakefield is pitching, is find the Red Sox' box score.
In fact, he saw a vital piece of Wakefield's gem in Oakland on April 15 on a wide screen TV in the 66ers coaches office.
"As soon as I walked in I saw the first hit," said Hough, of the single that broke up his no-hit bid. "I think I jinxed him. He was special that day."
Hough says the theory of the knuckleball hasn't changed since it's inception over 100 years ago (1906 or 1908 depending on which story you believe).
Basically, knuckleballers throw as many good ones as they do bad. Hough's career record of 216-216 proves that theory.
"Either you throw a good one or you get beat," said Hough. "If you throw a really good one, it's impossible to hit. The thing is, how many of them can you throw or how many bad ones do you throw in the clutch."
As to why there the knuckleball appears to be a dying pitch, despite Wakefield's successes the last decade and a half, Hough says it goes to time and money.
"It's a strange game," said Hough. "I'm on the other side of the game as a coach. People aren't patient enough with a guy like that. They've invested a lot of money in these guys. I probably wouldn't be patient either. But if you could be patient, a knuckleballer can be so valuable. Timmy's a great example of that. I'm not saying he's the best pitcher in baseball. But nobody is more valuable to his team than Timmy is. Nobody."
Hough finally retired at 46 years of age. From what he has seen lately, he believes Wakefield should be able to last that long if he so desires.
"He's in a lot better shape than I was near the end of my career," said Hough. "He's good enough, playing for a great organization with great people. Fenway Park is one of the few real places to play. So why wouldn't he do it. He's not playing for money now. He's pitching for the excitement. I'm rooting for him."
E-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.