Red Sox Advance to American League Championship Series; Can Knuckleballer Wright Return for a World Series with the Sox?

After an edge-of-seat performance in the bottom of the ninth last Tuesday (October 9), the Boston Red Sox won their playoff series against the New York Yankees without the help of knuckleball pitcher Steven Wright (off the mound for now because of resurgent knee trouble). The Sox are now battling the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series. They’re tied at the moment. The Astros won Game 1, 7-2, and the Red Sox won Game 2, 5-7. Game 3 is scheduled for October 16 at 5:09 PM EST.

“In the annals of ways to clinch a playoff series, leave it to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to come up with a new plot twist on your typical stomach-churning, fingernail-chewing bottom of the ninth,” wrote David Schoenfield of ESPN of the October 9 game.

The Red Sox had cruised into the inning with a 4-1 lead and closer Craig Kimbrel only three outs away from sending them to their first American League Championship Series since 2013. The Red Sox managed to hold on for a 4-3 victory in Tuesday’s Game 4 of the division series, but only after what Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts termed “one of the most nerve-wracking games.”…

The ninth inning came down to the final two outs in a tension-filled Yankee Stadium. Kimbrel walked Aaron Judge to start the rally and later hit Neil Walker with one out and the bases loaded to make it 4-2. That brought up Sanchez, who lifted a towering fly ball to left field on a 3-2 fastball. It sounded good. The crowd roared. Andrew Benintendi drifted back to the warning track to make the catch….

[A] sacrifice fly made it 4-3 with two outs. Kimbrel still had to get rookie Gleyber Torres out. The batter dribbled a 1-2 curveball down the third-base line, Nunez charged, fielded the ball with both hands and made a lightning-quick throw, with first baseman Steve Pearce stretching wide to record the out. After the review, the game was over.

“I’m going to say it again: Tremendous play by Nunez, man,” Bogaerts said. “Believe me, I’ve played third base, and I know that play could have gone either way and it could have been a different ballgame. I’m so happy he made the right choice and made the play.”

The MLB has a video clip. It seems that if Nunez had been a few milliseconds lower, he would not have made the out.

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Steven Wright, who may soon have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, still hopes to play in the World Series if the Red Sox get that far. MassLive’s Christopher Smith reports:

The knuckleballer said his knee “feels all right.”

Wright posted a 1.52 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 16 relief outings (29.2 innings) overall during the regular season.

The Red Sox removed him from the ALDS roster before Game 2 after he underwent an MRI on his sore left knee.

“I haven’t really pushed it,” he said. “We’re trying to let the inflammation go down.”

Wright is exercising and training to the extent the situation permits, to “kind of keep my arm moving.”

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We don’t know whether Aaron Boone (in the MLB from 1997 to 2009) ever mastered the art of hitting the knuckleball, but give him credit for pluck in pursuing that task. Baseball-Almanac records Boone’s thoughts about going up against famed Red Sox knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, who retired in 2012 as the team’s longest-serving player.

”It’s always tough to hit a knuckleball. So when I saw Wakefield [during the 2003 American League Championship Series], I was thinking about taking some pitches. Then I stepped out of the box, took a deep breath and said to myself, ‘You know what? You’ve been thinking too much, kid. Just go and take a swing.’ That’s what I did on the first pitch I saw. Maybe I should do that before every pitch I see from now on.”