TORONTO — There must have been some sore ribs among the faithful (plus bandwagon jumpers and assorted Cleveland boosters), at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.
Watching R.A. Dickey open the season for the suddenly fashionable Toronto Blue Jays led to more than a few over enthusiastic elbows to the neighbours.
"Hey … didja see that? Didja see that pitch? The knuckleball. Didja?"
Some did. Some didn’t. Depended on where you sat, because seeing the thing seems a matter of seat location.
The story itself was one everyone in the park got, wherever they were, as the much-ballyhooed debut of the defending National League Cy Young winner, now with Toronto, didn’t go quite as hoped.
Dickey and the heavily hyped birds fell 4-1 to a sharp Justin Masterson and the hustling Cleveland Indians on opening night. Problem was too much movement on the thing.
That is the way of the Dickey knuckleball, however. Sunday against Boston, it might be perfect.
Inside the 200 level Comfort Clubhouse, sponsored by a bank, you can eat dinner a couple of hundred feet above home plate on dishes the size and shape of second base. This is where distraction holds sway over the simple base hit, and you’d expect nothing could interrupt the conversation.
But when Dickey threw his first pitch at 7:32 p.m. ET (passed ball by catcher J.P. Arencibia, who spent much of the night following the Bob Uecker philosophy of waiting until the orb stopped rolling before picking it up), everyone was in their seats, trying to see this exciting new cultural phenomenon.
And they could. From there, the movement was obvious, especially left and right with the dip part apparent more from the swing-and-amiss than the actual lift or dive.
With Dickey’s offering a ball way outside, the murmurs were starting. But a 4-3 ground out later and all was well — momentarily.
"See," said an inmate in these well-padded cells. "I told you. I told you."
Another sore rib.
Best was Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis, who lost a touch of dignity and his bat reaching for a knuckler that just kept going down and right until the only hope was to let go of the wood and hope for the best.
The rotating branch failed to connect with anyone over the Indians’ dugout, where a Cleveland fan threw it back to a chorus of offended boos.
It was 21 pitches of fun in front of the glitterati during the top of the first frame, shared by the unwashed above in the 500 level who also, if inside the bases, could easily see what a knuckleball does.
An inning later, however, the denizens of the dark overhang in the 200 level right-field bleachers were having a different kind of experience with the Dickey effect.
First off, the trick pitch is mostly an unusual delivery followed by a little figure scurrying to the backstop to grab the ball. Here, some were still working out who was responsible for what.
"C’mon Dickey, what’s happening?!?"
"C’mon Dickey. I mean … c’mon!"
Perhaps they didn’t know the catcher’s name, this being opening night and the stands filled with as many party fans as baseball ones.
By the time this inning ended with two runs in, someone was getting it.
"Bring back Pat Borders!"
Part of the learning curve here for fans and media is coming to grips with what makes a good knuckleball. During the spring, there wasn’t enough movement on the pitches. On Tuesday night, there was too much.
"Early on, in particular, it was moving pretty violently at the plate, and you saw that manifested in JPs struggle with it a little bit, that’s part of it," said Dickey, who seemed a tad surprised at the solemnity around him in the media room.
"It … had more movement tonight than I had all of spring training. It’s just the nature of some adrenalin … the velocities were back up."
No help from offence
Not that Dickey, who lasted through six innings, 104 pitches, five hits, four runs, (three earned), four walks, four strikeouts and a slightly frazzled catcher, was getting any help from the offence.
This team is going to hit, but on Tuesday the only home side moving around the bases was the grounds crew, cleaning up at the mid-way point.
After Cleveland’s Masterson allowed a single to right by Melky Cabrera to open the third inning — a shot so hard Drew Stubbs found himself simply trying not to be killed out there as it bounced off him and to the wall for an added error — he retired 11 straight.
And the bullpen contributed another 19 in a row before a two-out double by Arencibia in the ninth. A strikeout ended things.
Lesson on the night? If the knuckle isn’t perfect, the offence better be. And if you want to see it knuckle at all, pick your tickets carefully.