R.A. Dickey was on the verge of his 100th career victory on Sunday, September 13th, when his team the Toronto Blue Jays went against the New York Yankees; but, sums up Jason Cohen of SB Nation, “the Yankees finally found their way to victory [5-0] just in time to stay 3.5 games out of first place. Masahiro Tanaka kept Toronto quiet for the first time in a long time and the offense came through against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.”
The game caused the New York Post’s Fred Kerber to ponder how best to “attack the knuckleball.” Sure, one can always “swing, miss and then cuss like a sailor on shore leave.”
Then there is Dustin Ackley’s approach, which has produced good numbers in a small sample against the likes of Toronto starter R.A. Dickey….
[O]n Sunday, manager Joe Girardi spared rookie Greg Bird the horrors of the knuckleball and inserted Ackley at first base. The move worked perfectly.
“The simpler the approach the better,” said Ackley who continued torturing Dickey by smacking a two-run homer, single and sacrifice fly as the Yankees captured the closest thing possible to a must win, averting a Toronto series sweep with a 5-0 victory at Yankee Stadium.
“A lot of times you’ve just got to go up there and the first one you see over the plate, just take a good swing on it,” Ackley said….
In the second inning, Ackley got the Yankees on the board with a sacrifice fly to center. In the fourth, Ackley slugged his first homer as a Yankee, seventh this season, to right. He also singled in the seventh.
“I’ve heard this a lot: Try to almost pull the ball off a knuckleball guy. If you try to let a knuckleball get deep and see what it’s doing, it’s too late to hit it. To me, it’s just getting out front and letting the barrel work,” said Ackley, who also succeeded against knuckleballers such as the retired Tim Wakefield and Boston’s Steven Wright.
“Letting the barrel work.” Hmm. We’re not quite sure that following this advice will enable other batters to connect with the knuckleball as well as Ackley can, but it’s a theory.
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R.A. Dickey’s collaboration with Russell Martin—who has been seeking to match longtime Dickey catcher Josh Thole’s knuckleball-catching prowess—is back on track after some time out due to injury. In a piece on the Jays’ 7-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox last Saturday (albeit with a solid performance by Dickey), the National Post’s Erika Gilbert reports:
The knuckleballer has spent the past month or so working with catcher Josh Thole—their history dates back to their days with the New York Mets—giving Martin, who has dealt with a nagging leg issue, a break from the taxing job of dealing with the fickle flight of Dickey’s signature pitch. The Jays are not expected to include the light-hitting Thole on their playoff roster, sticking with Dioner Navarro as Martin’s backup (and Marco Estrada’s favourite receiver).
On Saturday, Martin caught Dickey for the first time since Aug. 18. Gibbons said Martin has been “feeling better physically” and expects Martin to catch “at least two” of Dickey’s three remaining starts…
“He didn’t miss a beat,” Dickey said of Martin. “He’s a supernatural athlete… His hand-eye co-ordination’s great.
“We were in sync all night. I don’t anticipate there being any problem. I think people make a much bigger deal out of that than it really is.”
Martin felt similarly positive, shrugging off the idea that the time away from Dickey’s knuckleball could present a problem.
“I felt pretty comfortable with Dickey,” Martin said. “I’ve caught him a bunch and I feel now that I have that experience it’s kind of like riding a bike. Once you’ve had a lot of repetition your brain knows what to do.”
The effectiveness of Dickey’s performance cannot be inferred from the Jays’ narrow loss. In six innings he gave up just two earned runs on six hits and one walk.
Dickey was solid again for Toronto, pitching into the seventh inning—he has gone at least six in every start but one since July 4—and holding the Red Sox to two runs.
“I was happy with the results,” Dickey said. “I was kind of battling my mechanics all night. Early on I was pretty consistently in the strike zone but mechanically I wasn’t as sharp as I’ve been in the past, so it was somewhat of a grind getting through that lineup multiple times.”
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As Dickey approaches 100 wins, Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe wonders whether the 200-win pitcher is “an endangered species” given how baseball is played today. Effective knuckleballers have a decent chance to reach the number, though, since they have, first of all, a decent chance at a longer-than-average career. Four years ago, on another September 13, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield won his 200th career game—playing against Dickey’s current team, the Blue Jays.