It has been a year of bad mathematics for the Toronto Blue Jays, who were mathematically eliminated from the post-season on Tuesday.
But after another splendid outing from R.A. Dickey at the Rogers Centre in a 2-0 win over the New York Yankees, at least some numbers may be falling into place – or, at least some kind of theory may be developing. Dickey struck out eight and walked two over seven innings, keeping body and soul together despite using 51 pitches to get through the first two innings.
Josh Thole, who caught Dickey when he won a Cy Young Award with the New York Mets and has been the knuckle-baller's personal catcher, said the hard knuckler Dickey threw reminded him of the pitches he caught last year. Dickey has also been tinkering with dropping his arm on one or two knuckleballs per outing, and afterwards talked about the importance of finishing strongly; of "trying to get it right" for 2014.
The truth is that when Dickey talks about his knuckleball he could be stringing folks along, because with the knuckler who the hell really knows how much is B.S. or bad science or just flat out dumb luck. But Dickey sure sounds good when he talks about the importance of depth on his pitches, and how earlier on this season he was slowing down his pitches to get the depth and is doing it now by throwing the pitches harder. Truthfully? You want to ask him what the hell took him so long?
Yet there is one thing that can't be doubted by anybody who has watched him pitch this season. Somehow, he has figured out how to pitch at the homer-happy Rogers Centre, and come to the conclusion that what worked in the acreage of the Mets Citi Field won't work in the super-heated, artificial turf humidor that will likely be his home for two more years. Dickey's home splits have settled back to earth after a start to the season that must surely have raised doubts in his mind about the decision he made to sign off on a trade and contract extension with the Blue Jays.
The question nobody wants to answer right now, however, is what will happen in 2014 when Dickey pitches. The Rogers Centre roof was closed Tuesday night; given the weather conditions, you would normally expect it to have been open. The protocol for the roof is that it remains closed through April and is open the rest of the time barring inclement weather but there have been suggestions that the team may put the matter in Dickey's hands for his starts. No big deal? Heh – manager John Gibbons called it "a touchy subject" on Tuesday night.
"One for the higher-ups," the manager said.
It's not simply whether the roof is open or closed, because the Rogers Centre is a different building with the roof open in the heat of summer than it is with the roof open in the coolness of the fall. Same thing with the roof closed. It's all about wind and heat rising off the artificial turf and if the knuckleball is this crazy thing everybody says it is it only makes sense that it might be affected by those conditions.
Nights like Tuesday it may not have mattered. Dickey was that good. But don't think for a moment that he won't go to school on the 2013 season when it's over. "It's nice to have a good sample size; to be able to look at the end of the year at the numbers with it closed and opened," he said. "That should give us some feedback."
Dickey has two years and $24-million remaining on his deal, with a club option for a third at $12-million. For a team that's going to be life and death to address its myriad starting pitching needs this off-season, you'd think that's all the feedback needed. Dickey is an uncommon investment, and it behooves the Blue Jays to do what it takes to maximize his performance.