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Thursday, July 11, 2013
Wright rights ship, earns first MLB win

By Adam Lewis, Special to ESPNBoston.com

SEATTLE -- As if throwing a knuckleball wasn't weird enough.

Red Sox reliever Steven Wright, recalled Wednesday from Triple-A Pawtucket, carried in an oversized catcher's glove from the bullpen and gave it to teammate Ryan Lavarnway when he replaced Ryan Dempster with one out in the fourth inning of the Red Sox's 8-7 win Thursday.

Steven Wright
Steven Wright earned his first major league win Thursday, pitching 5 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Ryan Dempster.
"He brings that glove with him everywhere he goes," Lavarnway said. "It's his little buddy. He might be the only pitcher in the league that brings his own [catcher's] glove with him from the bullpen."

He is almost certainly the sole pitcher whose one major league appearance prior to Thursday was separated by nearly three months spent in the minor leagues tweaking a pitch so fickle that few try to throw it. After he surrendered five runs, six hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings during a 13-0 loss to the Athletics on April 23, the Sox sent him down.

"I had this stretch when I got sent down -- I was falling behind a lot so I was throwing a lot of fastballs and curveballs," he said Thursday after picking up his first major league win. "Over my four or five starts down there I was able to be more consistent within the strike zone. If I can throw quality knuckleballs within the strike zone and get them swinging, then most of the time the results will be better for me because they'll mis-hit it."

Mis-hit it the Mariners did -– to the tune of 5 2/3 innings without scoring a run. Mixing the occasional fastball with his knuckler, Wright maneuvered through the Mariners lineup by making in-game adjustments based off what he saw from the way each hitter approached his "out" pitch.

"I look more for balance and if they're taking a good swing," he said. "Not so much the contact but just the timing. For me that's the time when you add or subtract the timing of their swing. I feel like if they're on it, I'll maybe speed it up or slow it down to just mess with them a little bit."

Such is the tendency of knuckleballers. They must be cerebral, knowing where to start a pitch that can just as easily end at the backstop as it can the center of the plate. For Wright, it was just as important that Lavarnway caught him. The two have history together.

"I think it helped out a lot having [Lavarnway] back there," Wright said. "I threw to him quite a bit back in Pawtucket. He saw that I was a little bit antsy, and he was able to calm me down. It was comforting to me -- especially coming back to the big leagues."

When Wright entered, the Red Sox trailed and runners stood at first and second. Kyle Seager hit an RBI single, then both runners advanced on a wild pitch during Justin Smoak's at-bat. But Wright worked out of it, inducing Smoak to firmly ground out to Dustin Pedroia with the infield drawn in before striking out catcher Mike Zunino.

"He was the story of the day from the pitching side of things," manager John Farrell said. "To come in with some traffic on base and get out of that without too much additional damage -- compared to where he was the first time with us -- he (threw) more strikes and had much more consistent action to his knuckleball."

Wright added how it helped that every Mariners hitter was unfamiliar with his stuff.

"I think it's good for [me] because obviously it's an unconventional pitch," he said. "But they're big league hitters. They make the adjustment. They lock in on one spot and most of the time if the ball is in that spot, then they're going to hit it."

That never happened, and it allowed the 28-year-old to help the Red Sox capture their 19th series of the season and go 20 games over .500 (57-37). Wright said he plans to give the game ball to his parents.

The glove will stay with him.