Watch: Mariners’ George Kirby breaks out rare knuckleball in tribute

Oct 2, 2023, 10:48 AM

Seattle Mariners George Kirby...

George Kirby of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Texas Rangers on Oct. 1, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle Mariners All-Star pitcher George Kirby has built quite the arsenal of pitches in his two years in the big leagues.

Mariners wrap up 2023 season with 1-0 win over Rangers

On a regular basis, you will see the lanky right-hander throw a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a slider, a curveball, a split-finger fastball, and the occasional changeup.

Kirby showed in Sunday’s season finale for the Mariners that he has at least one more pitch for batters to worry about, however: the knuckleball.

And boy, it was a dandy.

Kirby opened the fourth inning of Seattle’s 1-0 win by getting Texas Rangers star Corey Seager to whiff on a 73 mph knuckler, one that danced from near the top inside corner of the strike zone to just below the bottom of the zone. The reason for breaking the pitch out for the first time was a fitting tribute on a sad day for baseball. Earlier Sunday, news broke that legendary knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, best known for his long run with the Boston Red Sox from 1995 to 2011, had died at the age of 57.

Kirby, who hails from the New York area, confirmed after the game that broke out the knuckler as a tribute to Wakefield.

“I loved watching that guy throw, even though he’s a Red Sox player and I’m a born Yankee fan,” Kirby said, per Mariners reporter Daniel Kramer. “But yeah, it was a great day to throw it and I’m glad Seager missed it and didn’t take it deep.”

Kirby shined on Sunday, throwing six innings of Seattle’s combined shutout, allowing just three hits and no free passes to earn the win. As for the at-bat where he showed the knuckleball, Kirby eventually got Seager swinging on a splitter for one of his seven strikeouts on the day.

Watch highlights from Kirby’s full outing in the video here:

Knuckleball pitchers have almost entirely disappeared from MLB in recent years. The last notable knuckleballer in the league was R.A. Dickey, a former Mariners player who found late career success and even won the National League Cy Young Award using the pitching in 2012 with the New York Mets. Dickey last pitched in MLB in 2017 with the Atlanta Braves.

Could Kirby be the next great pitcher to utilize the knuckler with regular basis? Don’t rule it out, although he still has plenty of other options to get hitters out.

“It’s a really good pitch, and it’s one he may work into his repertoire,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Sunday in his postgame press conference. “George is George, and he is gifted. He can do a lot of different things in multiple sports, but he also has an extremely devastating knuckleball.”

Was Servais taken aback by Kirby’s decision to throw the pitch on Sunday? No, but the choice to do so against the player with MLB’s second-highest OPS this season (1.013) is a different story.

“It didn’t surprise me that he threw it,” Servais said. “The fact that he threw it to Corey Seager did surprise me a little bit.”

Kirby, who made the American League All-Star team for the first time this summer, wrapped up a successful second season in the bigs with a 13-10 record, 3.35 ERA, 1.038 WHIP, and 172 strikeouts to 19 walks over 31 starts (190 2/3 innings). He led MLB in walks per nine innings at just 0.9 and strikeouts to walk ratio at 9.05. Both marks were well ahead of the second-place pitcher, Tampa Bay’s Zach Eflin (1.22 BB/9, 7.75 K/BB).

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Watch: Mariners’ George Kirby breaks out rare knuckleball in tribute