Steven Wright Brings Knuckleball to Pawtucket and Sox; Candiotti’s Greatest Games

Wright tells Michael Vega of the Boston Globe that it’s “always nice when you get a chance to get up here and pitch for the Red Sox.”

Wright lets loose

“It’s been up and down the last couple of years and I know that’s my role, so if they need innings and I get an opportunity to come up here and pitch some innings, if they need a start, I’m ready.

“I’ve only thrown twice down there [Pawtucket], but both times have been pretty good. My last outing was probably one of my better ones, as far as the knuckleball goes. So I’ll just try to continue it up here.”

What has improved about his knuckleball during these latest, pretty-good outings?

“Command, movement, the ability to change speeds—all of the above,’’ he said….

“I think it’s not so much the movement but it’s the late movement,’’ Wright pointed out. “For me, I don’t want it to flutter. I want it to be sharp. My last outing it was definitely sharper than the first outing. A lot of that is just feel and just kind of carrying over the adrenaline of being in a game situation.’’

Sox catcher Sandy Leon says about the batter’s hard job: “Sometimes you can make a mistake and still hit it, but it’s a really funky pitch.” Some would say that you almost need to make a mistake to hit a well-flung knuckleball.

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Breaking news, via an NESN video clip: there’s really no way to prepare for the knuckleball, says sportscaster. “If you ask nine different guys what their approach is to hitting the knuckleball, you’ll probably get nine different answers.”

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Candiotti A Life of KnuckleballsAt the web site for his book Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, author K.P. Wee stresses that just because he was a knuckleballer doesn’t mean that Tom Candiotti “always threw wild pitches, walked tons of batters, and gave up plenty of home runs.”

In fact, over a five-year stretch from 1991 to 1995, Candiotti had the eighth-best ERA in the majors with his 3.21 average during that span. For a full decade from 1986 to 1995, he had a respectable 3.44 ERA despite throwing that knuckleball as his primary pitch.

Six times in his career, Candiotti was in the Top 10 in his league for allowing the fewest home runs per nine innings, including an American League-best 12 homers in 238 innings during the 1991 season.

He never led his league in walks and was in the Top 10 just twice (1986 and 1994), meaning he had better command of his knuckler than a lot of hard-throwers did with their fastballs!

Wee recounts several of “Tom’s Greatest Games”; for example, one pitched on May 14, 1989:

Candiotti threw 131 pitches in defeating the Detroit Tigers 8-3, tossing 8.2 innings. That night, 83 of his pitches were strikes, with 34 of them called strikes. He faced only 34 Tigers batters in that game, and 34 called strikes to 34 hitters seemed like a rather high ratio.

To put things in perspective, when fireballer Randy Johnson had 20 strikeouts in a game in 2001, he had 20 called strikes to 29 batters faced, while throwing 92 strikes out of 124 pitches. Kerry Wood fanned 20 batters in a game in 1998, and he had 30 called strikes to 29 batters faced, with 84 strikes out of 122 pitches. Roger Clemens’s 20-strikeout game in 1996 had 31 called strikes to 32 batters, and 101 strikes out of 151 pitches.

Working behind home plate in the Candiotti game was Larry McCoy. “I guess none of those pitches hit him,” Candiotti jokes. Getting called strikes wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for him. In one game against the Red Sox in Boston in 1991, he received 28 called strikes on 27 hitters in the Indians’ 6-0 win. A few weeks later, he had 26 called strikes on 25 batters in a game against the Mariners at the Kingdome.

When you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone.

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