In 1995, the Red Sox picked up a knuckleballer named Tim Wakefield, who had been released by the Pirates. He made his first start in Anaheim on May 27, won the game, 12-1, with seven brilliant innings and went on to a 14-1 run that vaulted the Red Sox into the playoffs.
Though the Red Sox were in first place with a 16-10 record at the time, ace Roger Clemens was out with an injury (until June 2) while Aaron Sele’s season ended on May 23 with a shoulder injury.
Desperate, GM Dan Duquette took a flier on Wakefield. The Red Sox could never have sustained their first-place status if not for Wakefield.
Twenty years later, Steven Wright, a fellow knuckleballer pitching against the Angels at Fenway Saturday, spotted the Halos a two-run lead in the first and then shut them down into the seventh, setting up the Red Sox’ 8-3 win.
Sometimes you find a spark in the most unexpected places.
Could Wright’s strong effort be the spark needed to turn Boston’s season around?
Wright, 30, has a long way to go before he can mentioned in the same breath as Wakefield, but what he did Saturday night was keep the Red Sox in the game.
Wright replaced No. 5 starter Justin Masterson in the rotation. In his first start last Sunday in Seattle, he went five innings and allowed three runs (two earned) in a 5-0 loss.
Wright was the second knuckleballer the Angels had faced in the last three days, as they had suffered an 8-4 loss to R.A. Dickey in Toronto.
Wright throws a hard knuckleball similar to Dickey, but has worked a lot with Wakefield on changing speeds, which he did with perfection Saturday after the first inning.
Wright came into the game with 13 major league appearances, three of them starts. He was 0-2 with a 4.09 ERA in the starts and 3-0 with a 3.69 ERA in relief.
Wright allowed a leadoff single to Erick Aybar and, one out later, a double to Albert Pujols. Both scored moments later on Kole Calhoun’s double to left.
Things looked pretty grim right off the bat, but Wright was able to get on a nice roll, retiring the next 10 batters.
The night went from “Here we go again” to a win the Red Sox sorely needed.
The Sox, who entered the game hitting a league-worst .197 against lefties, beat up on C.J. Wilson.
In his first career win as a starter, Wright neutralized superstar Mike Trout, who went 0 for 3 against him. He got Pujols out twice after the double. The bottom third of the order went 0 for 7 against Wright. David Freese took an 0 for 3.
“I got it down a little bit after the first inning,” Wright said. “In the first, they got some pitches to hit. I concentrated on bringing it down. They still hit some balls hard, but we were able to make some good defensive plays.”
Was it a quick hook by manager John Farrell in the seventh?
“Every starter wants to stay in, but that’s not my call. I just want to stay out there and throw quality strikes until John comes out to get you,” he said.
After the team had lost three straight, Wright became the stopper.
“It’s definitely a must-win situation, so there’s no reason not to bring [Alexi] Ogando. He’s been really good for us and it worked out,” he said.
With the Sox up, 4-2, in the seventh, Wright got Freese to fly out but then, against Matt Joyce, allowed his only walk of the game.
Farrell explained that he wanted to let Wright leave with a good feeling about his outing, so, after 75 pitches, the manager brought in Ogando and kept Wright in line for the win.
Farrell praised Wright’s effort and also made mention of his calmness on the mound, questioning whether he had a pulse.
“For me it’s just another day,’’ said Wright, who threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 batters. “If you put too much pressure on yourself, you’re just going to disappoint yourself. Try not to overdo and overwork.
“[The knuckleball is] a contact pitch so you know they’re going to put it in play. I found my release point and once I found it I was able to add and subtract.
“I throw a knuckleball so I need to relax. If I get too tense it’s hard to control my release point and rhythm.”
Told of Wakefield’s debut against the Angels 20 years earlier, Wright commented, “That’s pretty neat. That’s a great story.”
And on Saturday night, it was a great story again.