R.A. Dickey's best performance of the young season for the Toronto Blue Jays was overshadowed by muscle spasms that forced him from the game.
The veteran knuckleballer pitched six innings of two-hit ball to go along with seven strikeouts before leaving Thursday as Toronto went on to defeat the White Sox 3-1 to earn a series split with Chicago.
Dickey (2-2) also gave up just one walk before exiting with neck and back spasms. He says if it wasn't for the building discomfort that peaked in the sixth, he could have gone the distance.
"I had a knuckleball tonight where I would have thrown a complete game," said Dickey. "So it was unfortunate that it acted up on me. It was just getting tighter and tighter."
It was the second straight quality effort for the Jays ace, who allowed one run over 6 1-3 innings in a 3-2 win in Kansas City last time out. His first two starts were rough outings, but Dickey is starting to look like reigning National League Cy Young winner Toronto went after in the off-season.
"I would say (it was my best)," said Dickey. "I knew I was close. Temperatures are warming up, there's some humidity in the dome, I had a good feel for it. I was in the strike zone all night along. Something to build on for sure."
Rajai Davis, Edwin Encarnacion and Munenori Kawasaki each had an RBI for Toronto (7-9), which won the opener of the four-game set before dropping the next two.
Gibbons optimistic about Dickey
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons seemed optimistic Dickey's injury wasn't serious enough that the pitcher's next projected start — during a road series in Baltimore — would be in question.
"We'll see how it develops the next couple days," said Gibbons. "You have to calm it down, no question about that. But he's a tough guy. I'm sure we'll see him in five days."
With two outs in the sixth and Toronto leading 3-0, Dickey had trainer George Poulis and Gibbons come to the mound for a talk. He finished the inning by getting White Sox infielder Jeff Keppinger to fly out. Right-hander Esmil Rogers came in to pitch a clean seventh.
"There was no reason to push it, we had a lead," said Dickey. "It got a little bit worse throughout the game. I just wanted to openly communicate with Gibby and the trainer and hopefully we can get ahead of it so it won't be an issue."
Chicago broke the shutout in the eighth when catcher Tyler Flowers doubled off reliever Aaron Loup to score Alexei Ramirez with two outs. Loup contained the damage by inducing Dewayne Wise to ground out before Casey Janssen pitched the ninth for his fifth save.
Left-hander Chris Sale (1-2) allowed three runs — two earned — over seven innings while striking out six and walking one for the White Sox (7-9).
Despite the loss, it was a bounce back effort for Sale, who gave up eight runs in his last start, a 9-4 loss in Cleveland.
"I felt like I had a little bit better stuff than my previous outing," said Sale. "Location was good for the most part, but some things happened. I made a stupid throwing error at first. I'd like to believe I had him picked off."
In a shaky fifth for Sale, he plunked Emilio Bonifacio, then advanced him to third with a bad pick-off throw. The outfielder scored when White Sox first baseman Adam Dunn bobbled a grounder by Kawasaki, who later touched home when Davis blasted one to the warning track.
The Japanese infielder has impressed since joining the Jays on April 13. He has five hits and has reached base safely in all six of his games.
"He's got energy and he's a great character," said Davis. "He keeps us going, keeps us loose."
"He's a pleasant surprise," added Gibbons. "We knew he was a solid player, but he's really given us a big boost. He's probably doing more than we expected. The fans love him, everybody loves him."
Dickey looked impressive until the fourth inning when he gave up his first hit of the game — a single to centre by Alex Rios. The ace threw a wild pitch that moved Rios to second, then walked Paul Konerko to get himself in some trouble with two outs. But Dickey got Dunn to whiff on a knuckler for his sixth strikeout, ending the inning with Toronto holding a slim 1-0 lead.
The Jays threatened in the third when Maicer Izturis reached first with a single and was put in scoring position when Bonifacio walked. Henry Blanco's double play advanced Izturis to third, but Sale escaped the jam as Kawasaki grounded a chopper straight to Chicago shortstop Ramirez and couldn't beat the throw.
After Dickey's three-up, three-down first inning, Toronto got on the board when Davis hit a grounder through the gap, stole second, and then stole third before Encarnacion brought him home with a single to shallow left.
Davis, who finished with two steals, looked dangerous on the base path and had Sale looking over his shoulder all game.
"That comes second nature to me," said Davis. "Something I've done since Little League. I feel at home there."
Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista was held out of the starting lineup for a fourth straight game.
The veteran right-fielder has been nursing a sore back and is listed as day-to-day. Gibbons said before the game Bautista was "showing progress" and that "he's pretty close to returning." He downplayed any suggestion that Bautista would be put on the disabled list.