NEW YORK -- "You know how it feels when you're leaning back on a chair, and you lean too far back, and you almost fall over backward, but then you catch yourself at the last second? I feel like that all the time."
Steven Wright said that. Steven Wright the laconic comic, not Steven Wright, the self-deprecating knuckleball pitcher.
But you can see why the Boston Red Sox pitcher is a fan of the Cambridge-born comedian (and Sox fan), because it wouldn't be a stretch to hear those words coming out of the pitcher's mouth.
"I've been on the bottom more than I've been on the top," Steven Wright the pitcher said Wednesday night, "so I just try to enjoy it for as long as it lasts, because I know what it's like to be on the verge of retiring."
Wright had just finished pitching the best game he has ever thrown in the big leagues, holding the Yankees to a run on four hits, striking out nine in eight innings, in a 2-1 Red Sox victory Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
The night was supposed to be about Luis Severino, the 21-year-old Yankees right-hander who on Wednesday night became the youngest pitcher to start a big-league game this season and lived up to the pregame hype, flashing a 97-mph fastball while walking none and striking out seven in five innings.
"No question we'll see Severino a lot in the years to come," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's a good-looking pitcher."
But it was another rookie -- a word that seems oddly attached to a man about to turn 31 in just more than three weeks -- who carried the day for the Red Sox, a team that needed a lift after a humiliating 13-3 defeat the night before.
Farrell said he has never seen Wright better.
"He was good his last time out," the manager said, "but given this lineup, this ballpark, the short porch in right, he was outstanding from start to finish."
Funny thing is, if the Red Sox had not placed Wright on their 40-man major league roster three years ago, after they'd acquired him from Cleveland, Wright would not have had this night. He was prepared to move on from baseball.
"If they didn't put me on the roster I was going to retire," he said. "I got a family. Being in the minor leagues, you don't make any money. I had a baby on the way. I couldn't afford to support a family making 10 grand a year.
"It's one of those things, where fortunately it worked out. I got put on the roster, and here I am, just trying to take it day by day."
That baby on the way? Shannon and Steven Wright will be celebrating Ella Grace's third birthday at the end of October. And her daddy looks far from the retiring sort, after giving the Sox back-to-back starts in which he has gone at least seven innings, emerging with a win both times, running his record to 5-4.
Wright struck out five batters in the first two innings, didn't allow a hit until Didi Gregorius hit a single up the middle with one out in the fifth, and had a shutout until Carlos Beltran homered to open the seventh.
Typically, conversations about the knuckler tend to conjure soft-focus images. Words like "floater” and "butterflies” often are used to describe a pitch designed to be thrown with not enough force to break a pane of glass. Farrell, however, stood that notion on its head Wednesday night when he praised the pitch's "violent” action.
Wright understood where his manager was coming from.
"You don't hear it that often," he said, "but he's talking about the late movement you get, that violent late movement. A knuckleball, throw it with late action it can be violent. Anything that moves late is going to have that conception of ‘violent.'
"It's true of any pitch. You don't want it to move right out of your hand, you want it to move late in the zone. You want to get guys to commit to the pitch, then move off the bat."
It still looks more like being assaulted by a feather duster than pummeled by a sledgehammer. But ask Yankee leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, the results can be the same.
Ellsbury struck out in each of his first three at-bats, flailing away helplessly at Wright's now-you-see-it, now-you-don't offerings. In his final at-bat, Ellsbury sent a ground ball headed up the middle, but it "grazed” Wright's foot, the pitcher said, enough to be redirected to shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who converted it into a double play.
"Just like we practice it in spring training," Wright said.
"We caught a break," said Farrell, uttering words that have not emanated from the Sox's clubhouse often this season.
And when Koji Uehara finished off the Yankees in the ninth, Wright had himself a victory. That chair may have tilted way back, but it hasn't toppled yet.
"I got a late start," Wright said. "I wasn't sure it was even going to work out. I was pretty close to giving it up, because it's such an unpredictable pitch. I'm definitely blessed that the Red Sox have given me a chance."