Steven Wright may not have been expected to cool the Yankees red-hot offense, but that is precisely what the 30-year-old knuckleballer did Wednesday night.
Wright allowed four hits in eight innings, striking out nine and walking two in Boston's 2-1 victory. His only blemish was a seventh-inning home run to Carlos Beltran.
"It's frustrating when you face a knuckleballer because you really don't know what adjustments to make," said Chase Headley, who was 0-for-3. "You're at the mercy of what the ball's doing and he had a good one tonight."
Wright came into the game with a 4.53 ERA in 59 2/3 innings, averaging 5.9 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings. He hardly seemed like a match for the Yankees' offense, which had scored 90 runs in its last 10 games, including 13 on Tuesday night against Boston.
The Yankees also came into Wednesday's game averaging 5.0 runs per game with a team on-base plus slugging percentage of .769, second to Toronto for the big-league lead in both categories.
Wright was strong from the start, recording six of his first seven outs via strikeout, including his first five to begin the game.
"He had a feel for his knuckleball much earlier tonight than he did ," Red Sox manager John Farrell said, adding "he kept guys off stride with some variation to the speed of the knuckleball." Farrell also said it was the best start he had seen from the third-year player.
A pair of walks were the only baserunners Wright allowed until Didi Gregorius' one-out single in the fifth inning. John Ryan Murphy singled later in the frame, but he and Gregorius were stranded when Jacoby Ellsbury struck out for the third time.
"That's about as good as you can throw a knuckleball," Mark Teixeira (0-for-3 against Wright) said of the Red Sox starter. "We don't see many of them but it was really good tonight."
Headley said that when facing a knuckleballer, the pitch is "not doing anything consistent so it's hard to go up there and say, 'hey, this is what you need to do.' " He added that Wright "was able to throw strikes with it . . . sometimes you just have to tip your cap on those kinds of nights."