TORONTO -- R.A. Dickey had a raucous crowd behind him, and he had the controlled environment under Roger Centre's dome to use to his advantage. What the veteran starter did not have was his signature knuckleball, a fickle pitch that can quickly transform from friend to foe.
In the Blue Jays' 14-2 loss to the Royals in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday afternoon, the knuckleball abandoned Dickey, resulting in an offensive onslaught by the Royals. By the time Dickey left the mound with two outs in the second inning, Kansas City had built a 5-0 advantage that quieted the stunned Toronto audience.
"I had a hard time catching it, so it was dancing around pretty good," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said. "The thing with the knuckleball, you throw one that doesn't [dance] enough, and it can be a home run. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. They just put some good swings on it."
With the win, Kansas City takes a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series into Game 5 on Wednesday, live on Fox Sports 1 and Sportsnet at 3 p.m. ET (game time at 4 p.m.)
Dickey faced only a dozen batters and was charged with five runs, though one was unearned due to a run-scoring passed ball by Martin in the Royals' four-run first inning. The aging right-hander surrendered a pair of home runs: a two-run shot to Ben Zobrist four pitches into the game, and a solo blast to former Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios.
Dickey's outing (1 2/3 innings) was the shortest postseason start in Toronto history and the shortest start for the knuckleballer since June 13, 2008, when he recorded only five outs in a regular-season outing for Seattle. It marked the shortest ALCS start since New York's Kevin Brown logged just 1 1/3 innings in Game 7 against the Red Sox in 2004.
Kansas City tagged Dickey for four hits, drew two walks and had one batter hit by a pitch.
"They spit on a lot of good knuckleballs, and they hit the ones that were a little bit flatter," Dickey said. "Two singles and two home runs and I'm out of the game. It happened really quickly. This is my 103rd start with the Blue Jays and this is the first time I've gone this short, so it was the anomaly for sure. But, it was a poor time to have the anomaly."
The Royals implemented an aggressive, yet simple, approach against Dickey.
"With a knuckleball guy, it's the same approach you take with everybody," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "You see high, you let it fly. Anything down low, you're going to let it go. I think we put ourselves in good counts, put some good swings on the knuckleball. I think the big thing with him was everyone did good situational hitting. We had guys in scoring position, and we cashed in on every opportunity we could."
The Royals' early outburst started innocently enough when Alcides Escobar chopped a knuckler from Dickey down the third-base line for a bunt single to open the first. Zobrist followed with his shot over the right-field wall for a 2-0 lead. Lorenzo Cain then walked, stole second and eventually sprinted home from third when Martin could not corral one of Dickey's dancing pitches.
Dickey retired three batters in a row to escape the first inning, allowing a sacrifice fly to Mike Moustakas within that stretch. Two batters into the second, though, Rios -- booed throughout the past two days in Toronto -- drilled a pitch to the first deck in left field, generating a collective groan from the fans. Three batters later, Dickey was taken out of the contest.
"It looked like there was a lot of movement on it, at least from where I was standing," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But, he had trouble commanding a little bit. And it was at a point in the game, you've seen him so often, he may struggle early and kick it into gear with five shutout innings. You've got to decide, 'Is this game going to get out of hand here?' Or, 'Make the move and try to hang around.'"
Gibbons made the move, but it didn't make a difference.
Toronto's bullpen imploded late to help Kansas City move to within a win of the World Series.
"You play this game long enough, you're going to have outings like that," Dickey said. "It just hurts a little bit worse that it was on this stage. So, you've got to deal with that."