Physically, R.A. Dickey insists he feels just fine as the game starts to drag into the later innings, his stamina good and his trademark knuckleball jumping with its usual electricity.
But there is just something about that seventh inning that represents some sort of a wall for the introspective Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, one that he has struggled to clear and the 2014 Major League Baseball season continues to progress.
Dickey, who pitched five complete games during his Cy Young Award winning season with the New York Mets in 2012, once again experienced the 7th inning blues against the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.
But at least the outcome was to his benefit, thanks to a large assist from outfielder Melky Cabrera who cut down the would-be tying run with a magnificent throw in the eighth inning that helped preserve the Blue Jays a 5-4 win over the Indians.
“Oh man, that was just heroic,” Dickey said of his left fielder’s throw that cut down Carlos Santana at the plate, trying to score from second base on a well-stroked single by Yan Gomes. “It saved the game.”
It also helped ensure that Dickey would win his third consecutive decision, improving to 4-3 on the season, which in and of itself is a positive development.
But Dickey was admittedly ticked at his inability to get past the seventh inning, something he has only managed once in eight starts this season.
It was where his otherwise solid performance started to unravel Tuesday night after handcuffing the Indians just one run off three hits through the first six where the Blue Jays constructed a 5-1 lead.
But a leadoff single, a fielding error by Brett Lawrie who is still trying to find his sea legs at second base, and then a walk loaded the bases with none out for Cleveland before Dickey compounded the issue by hitting Lonnie Chisenhall with a pitch.
That brought in Cleveland’s second run and spelled the end of the night for Dickey.
“A hit by pitch and a walk, that’s not going to help,” Dickey said. “A 1-2 hit. The good news is, I feel like I’m pounding the zone and pitching to contact and had a great knuckleball.
“But I am not making it easy on myself or my team in those late innings. And quite frankly I feel a little bit embarrassed that I haven’t been able to get through the seventh inning with some of the stuff that I’ve had. I’m not accustomed to having to bow out after six innings.”
Aaron Loup came into the game to relieve Dickey and he did a good job to extract the Blue Jays from the mess by allowing just two more Cleveland runs that cut the Toronto lead to 5-4.
Brett Cecil and then Casey Jannsen pitched in the eighth and ninth innings respectively with Janssen, just back off the disabled list with a back injury that has sidelined him all season, picking up his first save of the year back in his closer’s role.
“It’s definitely good to have him back,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Janssen. “Now you just kind of eliminate that inning, thinking that he’s got the ninth.
“He’s like a security blanket and then you just kind of work back from there.”