Yes, “Both Chris Davis and the laws of physics were baffled by this Steven Wright knuckleball,” suggests Chris Landers at MLB.com’s Cut4.
We know that Steven Wright turned to the knuckleball as a member of the Indians organization, after his career with a more traditional arsenal had stalled out in the high Minors. We know that he soon mastered the pitch, even learning to throw different types of knucklers at different speeds. We know that he’s been a pleasant surprise in the Red Sox rotation, with a 2.52 ERA over nine starts this season.
What we didn’t know was that Wright is actually a high sorcerer with the ability to bend the physical realm to his whim. At least, we didn’t know that until Monday’s 7-2 win over the Orioles, in which Wright gave up just four hits over a complete game effort…and unleashed a knuckleball to Chris Davis that seemingly ignored every known law of the universe. [Landers has video of the pitch.]
That’s just a tad exaggerative. No, physics does not adjourn when the knuckleballer mounts the mound. It’s just that the near-spinlessness of the pitch means that physical factors function in a different way. It’s all perfectly explicable in terms of seams and air currents and so forth. (Knuckleballer Candiotti once said: “It’s a strange pitch. You throw the pitch so there’s little or no spin at all to it. And I guess when you do that… I don’t know if it’s wind or something…. But it makes it move certain ways—up, down, around. Sometimes you throw it in circles.”)
Anyway, what a well-lobbed knuckleball does certainly often seems like magic. It seemed so on May 30 when the Orioles has to “knuckle under to Wright, Red Sox in 7-2 loss,” per Associated Press.
It proved to be a futile exercise.
Knuckleballer Steven Wright allowed only four hits in his third straight complete game, and the Orioles allowed three homers Monday in a 7-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
Mixing a fluttering knuckler with a contrasting 85 fastball, Wright struck out seven and worked around five walks in keeping the hard-hitting Orioles at bay.
We are indebted to Orioles manager Buck Showalter for a new (or half-new) metaphorical description of the batter’s task: “It’s like swatting a butterfly with a needle.” AP called Wright’s game a “122-pitch masterpiece, the only flaw a two-run fifth inning in which Baltimore pulled into a 2-2 tie.”
The Baltimore Sun: “Knucklerballer Steven Wright tied the Orioles in knots for all nine innings… ‘That was a challenge,’ said designated hitter Mark Trumbo. ‘He (Wright) had great stuff today. The ball never ended up where it started. Can’t really predict where to swing. You just hope you get one that doesn’t move quite as much.’ ”
The Boston Herald: “Wright had it working during a hot and muggy day at Camden Yards yesterday, dropping zero-spin pitches that zig-zagged through the strike zone as the Orioles swung fruitlessly, often without contact, as Wright threw a complete game in the Red Sox’ 7-2 win.”
NY Daily News: “How does a hitter ever square up to a knuckleball? Red Sox starting pitcher Steven Wright proved it might actually be impossible when he threw an unhittable knuckleball against Orioles slugger Chris Davis in Monday’s 7-2 win.”
Sports Illustrated: “The Wright Stuff: Knuckleballer Steven Wright thrives for Red Sox”: “Steven Wright didn’t figure to spend the 2016 season in the Red Sox’s rotation, let alone emerge as their most effective starter, but through the first third of the season, he’s pitched like an ace. On Monday, the 31-year-old knuckleballer tossed his third complete game of the year, a four-hitter against the Orioles, and showed off the jaw-dropping movement of his signature pitch.”
Being Steven Wright right now—how fun is that, eh?? Being a knuckleball pitcher at the top of your game can be a pretty cool thing to be. And all it takes is just the right mix of talent, training, determination, and stubborn unwillingness to accept the dénouement of a waning early-mid baseball career.