The mystic nature of the knuckleball makes it as hard to comment on as it is to predict. When Clayton Kershaw destroys a lineup, it's readily apparent what it is about his skillset that's preventing the other team from scoring. What exactly differentiates a good knuckleballer and a bad knuckleballer? That's a much more difficult question.
For Steven Wright tonight, it was not about control. It's never really about control. One does not command the knuckleball so much as provide gentle suggestions. So when Wright walks five, it's not exactly surprising. But nor is it condemning when the swings the Astros did take at it were so routinely off-balance with little hope for hard contact.
For once, Wright would not even take any damage in the first. In his other two outings this year, he'd been tagged for a pair to open the day before tightening up and holding the Jays off the board the rest of the way. This time, though, while the Astros threatened, Wright stranded a pair of baserunners to get into the second unharmed, meaning the Astros would have to be the first team to score on Wright after the first inning to have a chance.
And, as it happened, they'd have to score a lot. The Red Sox were once again hot early, and while they weren't horribly efficient, still managed to put together a string of scoring innings to start the game. Mookie Betts remained red-hot, starting the fun with a triple in the first and scoring on a Dustin Pedroia single. He would be within a home run of the cycle before the game was even halfway over, doubling home Jackie Bradley Jr. in the second and singling and scoring again in the fourth.
Scoring in each of the first four innings, the Red Sox would get out to a 5-0 lead. It's the sort of score which isn't safe with David Price on the mound, apparently, but Steven Wright? Well, he's looking more the ace than anyone else right now. The Astros wouldn't really threaten Wright significantly again until the sixth, and then ran themselves out of the inning when George Springer tried and failed to steal third with nobody out, still trailing by five runs. When the Astros finally did break through, it would come on a pair of passed balls in the seventh. That means a team has now scored on Wright outside of the first, but still not an earned run.
While Wright wouldn't quite manage to close out that seventh inning, Heath Hembree would get the chance to build some more trust, and did a great job following up his big outing in relief of Joe Kelly this past week. It took him a fair few pitches to record four outs, but he allowed just the one baserunner, struck out three, and pitched to the corners to get the Red Sox into the ninth, with Mookie Betts going ahead and tripling again to help the Red Sox pick up their sixth run.
It should simply be a positive night for the bullpen, but in the end, there's sadly more to talk about. You see, despite having a four-run lead in the eighth, John Farrell had Koji Uehara warming behind Hembree, and then Kimbrel up behind Robbie Ross Jr. in the ninth. And, with two outs and two on, the tying run still not even at the plate, Farrell called in his closer. For one out with a four-run lead.
This from the team that not one day ago couldn't afford anyone better than William Cuevas in the late innings of a tie game.
Listen, even if we ignore the wrinkle the Cuevas situation throws in things, the fact of the matter is that if nobody save Tazawa/Uehara/Kimbrel can be trusted to allow fewer than four runs in the process of recording one out, even with two men on, then there's clearly some players who just need to go. This is the smallest of asks, and if Farrell thinksguys like Barnes, Layne, and Ramirez can't be asked, then what's the point of having them on the team? This is a bullpen that's been battered by too many short starts. When Steven Wright gives you 6.2 innings and the lineup provides a five-run lead, you still can't keep Uehara and Kimbrel from having to warm and pitch respectively? You're just not trying hard enough.
And on another unfortunate note, Xander Bogaerts would take a pitch off the wrist in the top of the ninth, knocking him out of the game. He's going for X-rays, and while it sounds like he's not in too much pain in the locker room, it's certainly just another concern the Red Sox would rather not have.
So yes, the Red Sox won, and God knows they needed to take this one. But man, even with a 6-2 scoreline, there's a few too many blemishes going around for a fairly easy win.