TORONTO – Here's what we know after watching R.A. Dickey for a season and a half in a Blue Jays' uniform: we don't know.
Who knows what to expect from a pitch, the knuckleball, that in one moment confounds a hitter and in the next is traveling, with plenty of spin, more than 400 feet in the opposite direction?
Who knows how to manage a knuckleball pitcher? When is the right time to remove him from the game? These guys don't tire as quickly because they don't strain their arms and you can't predict when the pitch is going to flatten out just that once, which could be the difference in the game.
All of the above came in to play in Friday night's 5-4 loss to the White Sox, a game in which Dickey no-hit Chicago for four innings but left without recording an out in the seventh. By then he'd allowed five hits, four of which landed on the other side of the outfield fence. Actually, three of them did. One of them hit the foul pole.
“One less home run, we win that game,” said Dickey. “It's just a really bizarre outing to strike out nine guys, get all those swings and misses on what I felt like was a really good knuckleball tonight.”
Then, some home run talk.
“Three of the four home runs were possibly mistakes, two I know,” said Dickey. “Normally, they're a foul ball here or a miss hit here, but they just didn't miss them tonight.”
Jose Abreu and Dayan Viciedo hit solo home runs in the fifth to give the White Sox a 2-0 lead. Those were Chicago's first two hits of the evening.
The Blue Jays bounced back with back-to-back solo home runs in the sixth, one from Edwin Encarnacion and the other off the bat of Dioner Navarro.
Dickey, sporting an 11.81 ERA in the seventh inning this season, couldn't give his team the shutdown frame it needed. Abreu clubbed his second home run of the night to lead off and, after Adam Dunn walked, Alexei Ramirez clanked a two-run shot off the left field foul pole.
The knuckleballer's night, so promising two innings before, was over. In six-plus innings, Dickey allowed five earned runs on five hits (four home runs) and one walk. He struck out nine.
He was so good and then he wasn't. There's no discernible pattern outside of his bloated fifth (9.39) and seventh inning ERAs and who knows what to make of those? Dickey's ERA in the sixth is 2.38.
“I thought his knuckleball was as good as it's been,” said manager John Gibbons.
Then, some home run talk.
“It's a pitch that can come and go,” said Gibbons. “I mean, one inning it can disappear, one hitter it can disappear and all of a sudden it clicks in. It's tough.”
Then, he offered an admission: it's hard to determine what to do with Dickey as a game wears on.
“It's a totally different way to manage a game,” said Gibbons. “But he's here to win games for us and he needs to stay out there.”
Dickey's loss on Friday night dropped his season record to 6-7. His ERA climbed from 4.04 to 4.24.
In 51 appearances with the Blue Jays in a season and a half, Dickey's allowed 51 home runs. His win-loss record: 20-20.
So there is some symmetry amid the unpredictability.