Age has its benefits, and Tim Wakefield is taking full advantage. The 41-year-old Red Sox knuckleball artist boasts a long list of accomplishments, but on top of his list is the upcoming Red Sox playoff appearance, his seventh with the team, eighth overall.

Age has its benefits, and Tim Wakefield is taking full advantage. The 41-year-old Red Sox knuckleball artist boasts a long list of accomplishments, but on top of his list is the upcoming Red Sox playoff appearance, his seventh with the team, eighth overall.

 The only problem is that Wakefield suffered a sore back late in the regular season and the loss of a start didn’t do anything for his timing and sharpness.

 Wakefield can understand an occasional off day, but what he can’t abide is missing time, something that seriously curtailed his 2006 season, impacting the Sox, as well, for they failed to make the playoffs.

 “It hurt. It hurt me inside,” said Wakefield of the nearly two-month layoff that limited his record to 7-11. “Never being on the DL my whole career and then having to spend two months on it, knowing what the team was going through, I was trying my best to get back on the field. It was sickening for me to be on the bench and not able to help.

 “I didn’t know how to deal with it at first. You get in there and trust the trainers and do your rehab and try to get as healthy as you can as quickly as you can. I think the hardest part for me was I missed two road trips, not being with the team. Not being with the guys. Not being on the bench, rooting the guys on.”

 Fortunately for Wakefield and the Sox, he’s been healthy this season, save for the brief episode later on. It’s just that the lack of consistent work for a week derailed what had been a tremendous season, with Wakefield in contention in August to become the winningest pitcher in the AL, joining teammate Josh Beckett.

 Wakefield had a 16-10 record when he missed the start, and in his next two starts he gave up nine hits and six runs in 32/3 innings at Baltimore and 10 hits and seven runs in three innings against Tampa Bay. The Sox came back to win both games. It marked the first time he’d gone fewer than four innings in back-to-back starts since April, 1999.

 Not that there was anything wrong with it. The Sox were fully expecting Wakefield to get himself back into shape by playoff time, because the body of work over the previous part of the season was as good as it’s been over his career.

 “I think we all around here respect what Wake can do and what he does do, how hard he works,” Sox manager Terry Francona said.

Wakefield’s 16 wins were only one shy of his career high, landing him in the top 10 in AL wins. He was top 10 in two other categories: wild pitches and age, where he trailed only Roger Clemens, Kenny Rogers, Roberto Hernandez, teammate Mike Timlin and Jose Mesa. He’s only the second Red Sox pitcher older than 40 to win at least 16 games in a season, joining Cy Young, who won 21 games in both 1907 and 1908.

 Despite his age, the veteran had amassed some imposing stats this season, including 26 decisions in his first 26 starts. It was the longest such streak since Jack McDowell reached 27 with the White Sox in 1993.

 That’s the way it is with Wakefield. Age has its benefits, including various mentions in the record books.

 He trailed only Clemens and Young in wins and innings pitched for the Sox. He’s one of three active pitchers to record at least 150 wins with their current team, joining John Smoltz and Andy Pettitte. He trailed only Clemens in strikeouts (and starts), and was on the verge of passing Pedro Martinez. He’s second in club history to Bob Stanley (637) in appearances.

 Still, Wakefield says he’s feeling fine, and he never stops learning, having already visited with former Indians knuckleballer Tom Candiotti earlier this season to get some pointers. Which means he’s not quite ready to hang ‘em up. Wakefield continues to work on a series of one-year renewable (by the team) $4 million contracts.

“Charlie (Hough, former knuckleballer) told me the reason why he retired was he couldn’t cover first anymore,” he said in spring training. “It wasn’t that he couldn’t get anybody out, he just couldn’t cover first and his reflexes got a little bit slow. But physically, I feel fine now and I plan to pitch as long as I can.”