The Wright stuff: knuckleballer outduels Chris Sale


BOSTON - The odds couldn't have been any longer for Steven Wright than they were on Thursday night.

His Red Sox had dropped three in a row to the Chicago White Sox, allowing 28 runs and 46 hits in the process. Making matters worse: Wright was opposed by Chris Sale, arguably the most dominant pitcher in the American League.

Finally, there was Wright's recent history. In his previous two outings, he had been pounded for 10 runs in 9 1/3 innings.

Talk about a longshot.

But baseball, like Wright's knuckleball, is ultimately unpredictable, enough so that Wright allowed just two runs in seven innings in pitching the Red Sox to an 8-2 victory.

"Today we were able to fill up the (strike) zone a little bit more,'' said Wright, "and they hit it to our guys.''

The night began in inauspicious fashion for Wright, who yielded a two-run homer to Jose Abreu in the top of the first, continuing the series-long pattern of the White Sox taking a lead even before the Red Sox came to the plate.

Worse, Wright didn't have good command of the knuckler early.

But he deftly mixed in some fastballs early until the knuckleball started to come around.

"Once he did get the feel for it,'' said John Farrell, "the consistency and the violence to the action and the strike-throwing ability improved across the board. He settled into and threw a very solid outing for us.''

"I wasn't throwing a lot of strikes early on (with the knuckler),'' Wright said, "so I thought it was a good opportunity to throw some fastballs and get ahead in the count. Then, later on in the game, me and Blake (Swihart) were able to mix it in in good situations to really keep them off the knuckleball.

"That's the key for me -- when I fall behind (in the count), I start having to throw fastballs. I think that's when it gets tough for me. Today, we were able to stay a little bit more ahead. We mixed it in and used it as a factor instead of having to go to it.''

After the Abreu homer, Wright allowed just four more hits over the next six innings -- all of them singles, and few of them hit hard. He got some mishits, resulting in a routine flyouts and popups and generally seemed to be keeping the White Sox off-balance.

Another change was to go to his slow knuckler less often. Wright was burned for three homers two starts ago in Anaheim with the slower knuckler and has been more careful with its use.

"I've been really trying to concentrate on when to throw it and when not to throw it,'' offered Wright. "I definitely learned when not to, so I'm trying to find out when. A lot of it is location and timing when to (throw it). I'm still learning.''

Wright tried not to think about the fact that the lineup he was facing had lit up the Fenway scoreboard like a pinball machine the previous three nights.

"If you go out there with negative thoughts,'' he said, "you're almost digging yourself a hole before you even throw one pitch. I watched the last few games and knew that they were going to come out swinging. They've been swinging the bats well. You've got to tip your hat to them. So for me, I just tried to stay within and keep throwing quality knuckleballs.

"They're going to hit me. I'm not a strikeout pitcher. But they hit it at some guys who made good plays.''

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