First, the really good news.
Toronto: R.A. Dickey loves you. You made him and his knuckleball feel special on opening night. The welcome was “border-line supernatural,” in his words. “Awesome.”
So, well done.
Second, the just-good news: Dickey believes catcher J.P. Arencibia will recover from the three passed balls plus the four others that found the backstop Tuesday. Arencibia has the aptitude to do so (and, yes, Dickey did use the word “aptitude”).
You expected 162-0?
The Blue Jays lost 4-1 to the Cleveland Indians because they left five men on base through the first three innings, and bailed out an erratic Justin Masterson with a pair of double plays.
Yes, Dickey gave up five hits and walked four. Yes, Arencibia’s passed balls came into play in the second inning, when two advancing runners scored on a single. But here’s the thing about the 2013 season: high expectations need to gradually become managed expectations and, hey, let’s let gradually start right now, okay?
“Deep down, you want to give them a good show and entertain them and all that but, deep down, I think everybody that came tonight understands that we have a pretty good ballclub and the season is not won or lost on opening night,” said Dickey, standing in an interview room usually reserved for manager’s postgame news conferences or other weighty stuff.
There didn’t seem to be a whiff of panic among the media, just as a general question about Arencibia’s difficult night wasn’t expected to be parried with: “We’re family in here. We’re going to stay positive. It’s tough to do [catch a knuckleball] for anybody, even guys who are really good at it. And J.P.’s still learning. He has a great aptitude and willingness to learn and I’m sure he will identify whatever it was inhibiting him and fix it.”
Dickey clearly understands what is at stake this season, and what was at stake Tuesday. This was a reminder to all that there is a flip-side to all the bright, shiny toys Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos brought in during the off-season; that there is still an element of getting-to-know-you that needs to set in.
Manager John Gibbons spoke about it before the game, which had a different opening night feel to it: a big crowd but little of the boozy, frat-boy nonsense of recent openers. There was sexiness and coolness in the pregame ceremonies but also sombreness in the form of a minute’s silence for victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and a video tribute to former Jays announcer Tom Cheek.
There was – I don’t know – a properness to things; a sense of expectation but also a leap into some kind of unknown that other cities refer to as “a postseason possibility.”
For Gibbons, this game was a first chance to see Dickey’s knuckleball in a game that matters and figure out how to get a read on the fundamentally unreadable: when, exactly, do you take a knuckleball pitcher out of the game? Trying to decide when it’s time to take a pitcher out of a game when the pitcher himself often doesn’t know where his ball is going to go is, well, a challenge.
Getting hit around isn’t good for any pitcher, but it’s not as if a loss in effectiveness will reveal itself on the radar gun, or even by the reaction of the hitter. Dickey said “sometimes, you throw a good knuckleball and nobody’s catching it.”
His pitch was “moving violently at home plate,” he added.
Said Gibbons: “It’s totally different for knuckleballers. He can give something up … then run the table.”
Dickey, who won the 2012 National League Cy Young Award with the New York Mets, became the fifth Cy Young winner to start for a different team the following year. He is one of three to have a Blue Jays connection (Roger Clemens won the American League Cy Young with the 1997 Blue Jays and started for the New York Yankees in 1998; David Cone was the 1994 Cy Young winner with the Kansas City Royals and started the ’95 opener for the Jays) .
But none of them were knuckleballers, and now Blue Jays fans – and their manager – have a little better idea of what that means.