A Bunch of Knuckleheads

Game three of the Boston Red Sox series was one for the ages or should I say one for the aged. This game featured 44 year-old Randy Johnson against 41 year-old Tim Wakefield. This was not just a game between two of the elderly statesman of the mound. It was a contrast of styles. Randy Johnson throughout his career has been known as a power pitcher. He would routinely lead the league in strikeouts blowing people away with his 98 miles per hour fastball or nasty slider. Wakefield on the other hand was a light-hitting outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates who in a last ditch effort to remain a major league baseball player took up pitching throwing a knuckleball.

The knuckleball is one of those abominations of nature that cannot seem to be explained by physics. It is a pitch that seems to have a life of its own and neither the pitcher nor the catcher exactly knows where it is going to go or how it will react. It is a befuddling pitch that makes hitters look foolish and leaves the fans scratching their heads as to why professional batters cannot connect to a pitch that rarely reaches 62 mph on the radar gun. The knuckleball is a finicky pitch that takes a lot of finesse to through and even more bravery. If the pitch has movement it is nearly impossible to get good wood on. If the pitch doesn’t move it may as well be served up on a silver platter and handed to the batter. The knuckleball pitcher is a dying breed which always confused me. Given its impossibility to hit hard you would think it would be a pitch that many would have in their repertoire. Instead most pitchers shy away from throwing it or keeping it buried deep in the back of their minds to only throw in case of an emergency.

Wakefield is one of the few remaining starters who showcase the pitch with regularity. As a result he is even more difficult to hit since very few hitters have a lot of practice against that pitch. This is especially true of the Diamondbacks whose roster is made up of very young players many of whom have never seen a major league knuckleball. The Diamondbacks did have an advantage over other clubs. Their radio announcer Tom Candiotti was himself a well decorated knuckleballer and offered to through batting practice to the Diamondbacks to give them some practice picking up a knuckleball. We should have been able to guess how tonight’s game was going to turn out after watching batting practice. The Diamondbacks hitters flailed helplessly against Candiotti’s pitch most of them looking like Little League hitters. Wakefield had similar success against the Diamondbacks and Boston won the contest 5-0. Looking back maybe it would have made more sense to have Randy Johnson in the radio booth tonight and let Tom Candiotti pitch for the Diamondbacks. It couldn’t have been any worse.

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