Through the first four innings of Friday’s game against the Chicago White Sox at Rogers Centre, R.A. Dickey was the master of his domain, confounding the opposition with his signature knuckleball.
The Toronto starting pitcher had faced the minimum 12 batters with nary a hit, the only blight on the blotter coming in the second inning by Alexei Ramirez, whose routine ground ball was fumbled at short by Jose Reyes for an error.
Ramirez was then erased in a double play.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Dickey morphed from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, and his night turned monstrous.
First it was Jose Abreu, Chicago’s outstanding rookie Cuban defector who led off the fifth inning of a scoreless game with a home run shot over the wall in left field. Three batters later, Dayan Viciedo followed suit with an opposite-field blast to right.
It has been a familiar pattern for Dickey, from solid to squalid in the blink of an eye.
In total, the White Sox muscled four home runs off Dickey that helped power Chicago (37-44) to a 5-4 win over the Blue Jays (45-37) to level the four-game series at one win apiece.
Dickey would last into the seventh before being knocked out, his bizarre pitching line showing five runs off just five hits – four of them home runs – while striking out a season-high nine batters. He even struck out the side once, in the third inning.
Dickey’s record dipped to 6-7 with his third straight setback. The four home runs were the most he has given up in one game since April 6, 2006, when the Detroit Tigers mauled him for a career-high six.
“It’s a terrible letdown,” Dickey said afterward. “One less home run we win that game.
“It’s just a really bizarre outing to be able to strike out nine guys, get all those swings and misses on what I felt like was a really, really good knuckleball tonight.”
After the White Sox shot in front 2-0 the Blue Jays utilized their power game to get back into it in the bottom of the sixth where Edwin Encarnacion (his 25th) and Dioner Navarro (5th) homered back-to-back to tie things up.
But the good fortune was too much for Dickey to handle as he gave back three runs in the seventh when Abreu homered for the second time (now 25 on the season) along with a two-run shot by Ramirez.
Toronto manager John Gibbons said he felt that Dickey’s knuckler was the best he’s seen this season.
“It’s a pitch that can come and go,” he said. “One inning it can disappear, one hitter it can disappear and all of a sudden it clicks in. It’s tough.
“It’s a totally different way of managing a game. But he’s here to win games for us and he needs to stay out there.”
The Blue Jays would make it interesting in the bottom of the ninth where they scored two runs, including a pinch-hit home run by Colby Rasmus. But Melky Cabrera grounded out with the tying run at third base to end the drama.
The game was the 82nd of the season for the Blue Jays as the club has now officially embarked into the second half of the long campaign.
Surprising would be the best way to sum up the Blue Jays accomplishments over the first half, a team that few felt had the horses to be able to seriously compete with the heavy hitters of the American League East.
But the division has been surprisingly thin thus far in 2014 no doubt benefitting a first-placed Blue Jays outfit that has performed consistently well in most aspects of the game.
The starting pitching has been an especially pleasant surprise given that it was felt to be Toronto’s area of most need.
Heading into Friday’s game, Toronto’s starters had compiled a combined 3.87 earned run average, the seventh best mark in the A.L.
They have also accounted for 35 of Toronto’s wins, the A.L’s highest total.
Toronto manager John Gibbons was asked before the game, if someone had told him in spring training that Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ would amass 17 wins between them by the halfway point, what his response might have been?
“Nice,” Gibbons said. “Real nice.”
Gibbons said he is proud of the way the Blue Jays have performed up until this point. He said he hopes the team will be able to withstand the grind that will inevitably start to set in as the summer progresses.
“We’re waiting to get hot again,” added the manager.
He will have to wait a bit longer.
Lefty John Danks recorded the win for the, improving his record to 7-7, allowing two of the Toronto runs off five hits over six innings of work.