Jays overpowered by Red Sox
Offense struggles with knuckleball; Ohka shows improvement
TORONTO -- More than a decade ago, Toronto's Frank Thomas shared a clubhouse in Chicago with pitcher Charlie Hough, who was famous for the knuckleballs he sent dancing toward home plate.
At the time, Thomas was in the early stages of his career with the White Sox, soaking up as much information as he could about pitchers in order to become a better offensive threat. From Hough, the Blue Jays designated hitter learned something about knuckleballers.
"I played with Charlie Hough a long time ago," said Thomas, teammates with the former pitcher from 1991-92. "He said his knuckleball was much better in a dome with no wind affecting it."
On Wednesday night, Toronto found out that some things don't change over time. The Blue Jays continuously flailed at the knuckleballs tossed by Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield, who took advantage of the calm conditions under the Rogers Centre's roof to send Toronto to a 4-1 loss.
Wakefield's seven-inning performance overshadowed the outing from Toronto right-hander Tomo Ohka, who turned in his best start of the young season. Boston used three solo home runs off Ohka to provide more than enough support for Wakefield to walk away with the victory versus the Jays (8-6).
"Ohka pitched great," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "If you figure he's going to give up [four] runs, you think you've got a pretty good chance to win. It was just a night that Wakefield was doing his thing."
Toronto left fielder Matt Stairs singled off Wakefield with one out in the first inning, but the Jays sent 20 more batters to the plate before recording another hit against the 40-year-old pitcher. Wakefield (2-1) gave up four hits and struck out four.
"He threw a couple [knuckleballs] there, and I was like, 'Wow,'" said Thomas, who doubled off Wakefield in the sixth. "I was amazed. With the movement on that ball, there were times [Red Sox catcher Doug] Mirabelli couldn't even catch it."
The only damage the Blue Jays did against Wakefield came in the seventh, when shortstop Royce Clayton pulled an offering into left-center field for a two-out double. Toronto third baseman John McDonald followed with a looping single that dropped into shallow left to score Clayton.
By that time, though, Boston had already touched up Ohka (0-2) for four runs. Ohka didn't allow a hit to the first 14 batters he faced, but he yielded solo homers to three of the next seven.
Mike Lowell broke up the no-hitter with a homer in the fifth inning, Mirabelli added his second shot of the season to lead off the sixth and Boston slugger David Ortiz belted an opposite-field blast in the seventh to put the Red Sox ahead, 3-0. Ohka was charged with a fourth run when Jays reliever Victor Zambrano allowed an RBI single later that inning.
"I'm not happy," said Ohka, who struck out three in 6 1/3 frames. "I made three mistakes. Just three pitches."
That was plenty for Wakefield to work with, especially under a closed roof. In his 15 big-league seasons, the knuckleballer has gone 17-8 with a 3.76 ERA when pitching indoors.
"I always love pitching here," Wakefield said. "The mound is probably the best mound in the American League. Pitching inside is always a big plus for me. I was just thankful that I was able to pitch as well as I did."
After Wakefield exited the game, Toronto was rendered helpless against Boston relievers Brendan Donnelly and Jonathan Papelbon. Donnelly set down the Jays in order in the eighth, and Papelbon struck out the side in the ninth en route to his third save of the year.
"[Wakefield] was so dominating," Gibbons said. "Then, you bring in a guy like Papelbon after that and it looks like he's throwing 120 miles per hour."
Toronto missed out on a prime scoring chance in the fourth inning, when Wakefield wasn't as sharp with his signature pitch. He issued three consecutive walks to Thomas, Lyle Overbay and Aaron Hill to load the bases with two outs. But Toronto catcher Jason Phillips stared at two knuckleballs and missed on a third to strike out, ending the inning.
"Jason really wanted to pound it with the bases loaded, but [Wakefield] didn't give in," Thomas said. "He made a couple nasty pitches there. He's been doing that for awhile.
"His knuckleball was all over the place. I'm sure you saw the swings that we put on some of those pitches. Knuckleballers can be tough in a dome."
Hough warned Thomas about that.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.