With First Complete-Game Shutout, Knuckleball Pitcher Steven Wright Continues to Meet and Beat Expectations

Steve Wright Red SoxIf you expected the knuckleball to suffer ups and downs in the hands of Steven Wright just as it does in the hands of any other knuckleballer, no matter how expert he may be, you were right. He has, for example, had trouble when contending with certain inhospitable atmospheric conditions. It’s not so much the heat as the humidity.

In late June, NESN told readers:

The Arlington, Texas, humidity wasn’t kind to Steven Wright. The Boston Red Sox knuckleballer, who boasts the American League’s best ERA at 2.18, had arguably his worst start of the season Saturday in a 10-3 loss to the Texas Rangers. While Boston’s defense was responsible for five of Wright’s eight runs, he still didn’t have his best stuff.

And you can partly blame the sticky, 88-degree weather for making it difficult for Wright to grip his already hard-to-control knuckleball.

“I had a tough time throwing the knuckleball for a strike,” Wright said, per The Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson. “I felt like I couldn’t throw a good one over the plate. I had to rely a lot of my fastball. When I do that, it’s usually not going to be a good day for me.”

Wright surely would rather take responsibility for his rough outing, but knuckleballers are affected by wet weather more than other pitchers. The 31-year-old’s only other bad start this season saw him give up five runs over 4 1/3 innings against the Houston Astros on May 13, and it’s no coincidence that there was a steady rain falling at Fenway Park that day.

But Wright doesn’t let himself stay knocked down for very long. Like other greats, including great knuckleballers, he has a way of bouncing back from setbacks. (Click here for his stats over the last few years.)

Take his pitching on August 5 in a 9-0 win against the Dodgers game. After a couple of weak innings, Wright went on to pitch a shutout—on the Dodgers’ own turf. And he pitched the whole game himself, rare these days, which of course allowed relief pitchers to be better rested by the time they’d be next called into action. And that makes four complete games by Wright this season—a superstar level matched only by Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale this season. No one so far has pitched more than four complete games.

Per Associated Press:

Wright (13-5) was greeted with a big bear hug from Ortiz after he put the finishing touches on his first career shutout.

“It’s definitely nice to do it in a homecoming,” said Wright, whose mom, dad, sister, brother and wife were in attendance. “Watching Dodgers games is what I did growing up. To have an opportunity to pitch here was fun. To be able to throw my first complete-game shutout was icing on the cake.”

Reporting about the same game, here is the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham:

Wright, who grew up about an hour southeast of Los Angeles, had pitched a few innings at the stadium when he was invited to a tryout by the Dodgers in 2002.

“I loved baseball, so I appreciated all the tradition here,” Wright said. “Once I got drafted I always had it in the back of my mind that I would love to come back here and pitch.”

Given the opportunity, Wright cashed it in. He threw his first career shutout as the Red Sox beat the Dodgers, 9-0.

Wright (13-5) allowed three hits, walked one and struck out nine for his fourth complete game of the season. That dropped his earned run average to 3.01.

“Outstanding. Complete control,” manager John Farrell said….

The Sox won for the fourth time in their last six games….

Wright retired 15 in a row at one point, befuddling the Dodgers. His knuckleball was so effective that when he mixed in a fastball, it was with overwhelmingly positive results.

One of those bumps in the road has come along again. Because of a recent shoulder injury, Wright will miss a start against the Yankees. Fortunately, the injury is minor.

Big picture: Just a year ago, Steven Wright had been riding the minors-to-MLB-and-back-again shuttle. But he kept at and proved his ability and steadfastness, and the Sox gave him his full-time shot. Good investment.