Among the bon mots dispensed by R.A. Dickey in 2013 was his description of the knuckleball as a "capricious animal." He could just as easily have been talking about his season as a whole, which is why at some point, when it's all mercifully over, there will be a settling of accounts.
This is virgin territory for the Blue Jays, who haven't had a knuckleballer for years. It's also virgin territory for Dickey, the National League Cy Young Award winner, who in moving from spacious Citi Field to the Rogers Centre not only stepped into the jaws of the American League East but also set up shop in one of the majors' most unforgiving ballparks. It was a two-year, $24-million leap (U.S.) of faith on both parts – not including the $12-million, club-option third year.
After his penultimate home start, Dickey admitted that he will be intrigued to take a deeper look at his numbers with the Rogers Centre roof open and closed.
"It's nice to have a good sample size," Dickey said recently. "It's going to be interesting to take a look at the numbers at the end of the season. It will give us some feedback."
Dickey will pitch Friday night at the Rogers Centre in the first game of a season-ending three-game series against the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Rays.
Nobody will say that the result could be a special protocol for games in which Dickey pitches – manager John Gibbons, in a candid moment recently, called it "a touchy subject," best handled above his pay grade – but neither is there a blanket rejection of the notion.
The roof was closed in Dickey's last home game, a seven-inning, four-hit gem in a 2-0 win over the New York Yankees, despite the fact that the weather was seasonable. Is that a hint of what's to come?
"That's difficult," Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston said. "I mean, we're in Canada and we really get only four months of really good weather."
For the record, it is Beeston and the Rogers Centre operations people who have the final say on whether the roof is open or closed. The commissioner's office has no input, unless it's the postseason.
The numbers are interesting: in seven home starts with the roof closed, Dickey has an earned-run average of 3.95, and in his past three starts (all of them with the roof closed), he has allowed six earned runs in 201/3 innings (2.65,) in the process lowering his home ERA to 4.95. In 11 starts with the roof open at the Rogers Centre, his ERA is 5.51. Away from the Rogers Centre, Dickey's ERA is 3.57 – including three starts indoors at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field.
Anthopoulos is intrigued with the notion of a deeper study of the Rogers Centre, but he puts it in the context of a something wider than a Dickey-centric examination. For example, he wonders whether getting rid of Windows Restaurant in centre field has had an impact on air currents inside the facility.
The knuckleball is partly myth and magic in addition to physics, but beyond that, Anthopoulos wonders how reliable the numbers are, considering the fact that Dickey pitched early in the season with a muscular issue in his upper back, had another game where he had an issue with a fingernail and was found to be tipping his fastball in another game against the Boston Red Sox.
So they are two different animals, this knuckleball of R.A. Dickey's and the stadium he calls home.
"Eighty-one days, eighty-one decisions," is how Beeston describes the protocol for the Rogers Centre roof. You wonder if that will still be the case in 2014.