I don’t know how excited a person should be for a Tuesday night game in Houston, but I was decently excited.
Maybe it was nostalgia for Tim Wakefield and Tom Candiotti, but Steven Wright’s first start for the Red Sox — a spot start designed to give the rest of the rotation a day off — had me legitimately curious. Wright was already 2-0 out of the bullpen, and a start would give him a chance to prove his worth to the club further and reintroduce the haphazard beauty of the knuckleball to Boston.
I love the randomness that the knuckleball brings to the game. The homogenization of the game, from the way its managed to the approaches to at-bats to the way fans are expected to take in and enjoy the entire spectacle, has bothered me for the past few seasons. Wright, without intention, represents a little bit of the chaos that makes baseball much more interesting than watching “three true outcome” brutes strike out and walk their way to a higher on-base percentages.
But this put event that love of the unknown to the test. In Wakefield’s heyday, it was always understood that every start could either be the one where he takes a no-hitter into the 8th inning or the one where he gives up five home runs before the fifth inning. This game would be closer to the latter.
Wright takes the mound, and his knuckleball is dancing more than could be reasonably expected. Ryan Lavarnway, his catcher for much of the year in Pawtucket, was lost trying to track it down. He was charged with four passed balls that could have been five had the official scorer not mercifully marked the last one as a wild pitch. One passed ball deflected out of the webbing of his glove and over his head. Two of them led directly to runs. It was madness, and by the time the inning ended on a long, long fly ball to Mike Carp in left, it was 3-0 Houston.
They started to salvage it a bit. Brandon Workman came in and was mildly more effective, still giving up runs but at least keeping the ball in range of Lavarnway’s mitt. A home run by Ellsbury and a single by Ortiz in the third inning got the Red Sox within a 5-3 deficit, but in the top of the fourth, another home run made the score 7-3. It looked like one of those nights.
So, I moved on. In the midst of rewatching The Sopranos, I watched an episode from the first half of Season 6, decompressed, and around 10:30 p.m. flipped back to the game.
It was 13-7 Red Sox.
David Ortiz was already 4-for-4 and it was the sixth inning.
Brandon Workman was still pitching.
Looking back through the box score, the randomness of baseball happened, swinging the other way the way it can when time catches up on a struggling team. Starting pitcher Jordan Lyles ran into trouble in the way of doubles to Lavarnway, Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia. Wild pitches and walks built up. Suddenly the Red Sox were up 8-7, and with Pedroia and Ortiz still hitting, and aided by a Jonny Gomes pinch-hit home run, the score built up to the 13-7 confusion I walked back in on.
And it kept going. Another Ellsbury home run, a few more pitching changes and when it was all over, it was a 15-10 win on the books for Boston. Workman, who wasn’t expecting to pitch quite as much as he did, pulled through and walked away with the win. And Wright has a memorable first start he’d probably rather forget.
But, hopefully, he’ll get another shot when the Sox need a spot start. He’s been effective enough in relief, including a solid three innings of work against Seattle last week, so it’s possible that he was just dealt a bad hand by the knuckleball gods.
If nothing else, they’ve always had a sense of humor.