So far, so scary for the Toronto Blue Jays, home of knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey. Playing against the Kansas City Royals, the Jays are down by two games so far in the American League Championship Series, with Game 3 just hours away as we post. It is scheduled to commence this evening, that of Monday, October 19, at 8:00 p.m. EST at the Rogers Center in Toronto.
Will the Jays come from behind and win each of the next three games?
The question may be moot by the time you read this, but students of Blue Jays history will recognize a parallel to the present situation that occurred not so very long ago. We refer to the American League Division Series games played by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers from October 8 to October 14, 2015. The Jays also lost the first two games of that best-out-of-five contest.
SBNation’s Eric Stephen suggests that “boring” got displaced by “excitement aplenty” in those division games. Says Stephen:
After a pair of Wild Card games that were rather boring shutouts, the Division Series round brought us excitement aplenty, with three of the four series lasting the maximum five games….
The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers in an epic five-game ALDS, and the Kansas City Royals did the same against the Houston Astros, setting up a rematch of the 1985 ALCS.
Get ready to live, eat and sleep baseball, because MLB structures this whole endeavor to happen basically every day until the World Series.
Dickey had had a good feeling about the weather—and therefore his knuckleball—while in Texas a week ago, gearing up for Game 4. From an October 12 Dallas News story:
“Here it’s good because the humidity is usually nice and it’s usually warmer, and those are two things that contribute to a moving knuckleball,” Dickey said. “That’s what I rely on. I rely on late movement and this place has traditionally been a pretty good place for that.”
In 2006 Dickey made his first start as a knuckleballer as a member of the Rangers. He gave up seven earned runs in 3.1 innings. He never pitched for the Rangers again.
[The strategy of the Rangers] boils down to “see it and hit it.” The lack of knuckleballers in the majors makes them unfamiliar at best. Delino DeShields said he’d never faced a knuckleballer. Ever.
“If you go out as a hitter and you try to charge a knuckleball, it’s probably not going to benefit you much,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “You’ve got to let the knuckleball travel, you’ve got to get it elevated, you’ve got to be able to have some patience as well.”
There’s video at Sportsnet.ca of announcers discussing Dickey’s take on the weather just before Game 4. The commentators also make heavy weather out of the fact that it was the Rangers who had given Dickey his first chance as a knuckleball pitcher on the MLB stage.
In a post-Game 4 story, “Toronto Blue Jays beat Texas Rangers 8-4, force Game 5,” Peder Myhr of Global News reports:
Josh Donaldson, Chris Colabello and Kevin Pillar all homered while the pitching combination of R.A. Dickey and David Price held down the Rangers to stay alive in their American League Division Series and force a decisive Game 5.
Dickey threw 4 2/3 innings allowing 5 hits and one run before David Price made a surprise appearance out of the bullpen allowing 3 runs on 6 hits. Roberto Osuna closed things off in the 9th.
National Post’s John Lott discusses manager John Gibbons’s decision to replace Dickey with Price in the fifth inning:
[Gibbons] said he knew some would criticize the decision. But he did not want Dickey to face Shin-Soo Choo, a left-handed batter who already had two hits. Price was his only lefty in the bullpen because Aaron Loup had to leave the team to attend to a family matter. There was a runner on first. Gibbons had seen what the Royals did in the late innings against Houston earlier in the day, and he was determined not to let the same thing happen to his club.
On October 14, the Jays won Game 5 against the Rangers 6-3.
The Blue Jays became the third team to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two games at home. The 2001 Yankees also did it against Oakland, and the 2012 Giants did it against Cincinnati. Both of those teams went on to reach the World Series.
“The odds were against us but I don’t think these guys ever thought we were out of it,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
ESPN has a schedule of play through to the World Series, which begins October 27 and ends some time between October 31 and November 4.
And Game 3 of Jays v. Royals is tonight. Your move, History.