The wind tunnels and other oddities of the Rogers Centre remain sources of intrigue to R.A. Dickey. Already looking forward to the 2014 season, he spent Sunday experimenting with his knuckleball in an attempt to keep the batters from clubbing it out of the park, something that's happened with frustrating frequency in his first year with the Toronto Blue Jays.
His methodology worked effectively until the sixth inning when Brandon Moss hit a two-run homer off his hands to cap a three-run rally. The Blue Jays tied the game in the bottom of the inning but Oakland rallied for three runs in the eighth against Darren Oliver, and held on for a 6-4 victory.
Wearing red jerseys in front of 45,312 on Brett Lawrie bobblehead day, the Jays left the bases loaded in three innings, lastly in the ninth to end a wild 27-minute outing by A's closer Grant Balfour.
Entering Sunday, 3.05 homers a game had been hit at Rogers this season, a major-league high by comfortable margin. By comparison, Yankee Stadium, the seventh-most homer-happy locale, had seen 2.00 a game. The park factor, a number published on ESPN's website, compares the statistics at home vs. the rate on the road. A rate over 1.000 means the stadium favours hitters, while below 1.000 works for pitchers. In the home run category, Rogers rated a major-league-high 1.539, while Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay's stadium, ranked 15th of 30 parks at 0.958.
Oakland's Josh Reddick found an oasis in the desert. He had five homers on the entire season before knocking out five in the series' first two games – the second player to achieve that in franchise history, after Mark McGwire.
Considering A's starter A.J. Griffin has surrendered the most homers in baseball, 28, with Dickey ranked immediately behind, Sunday's game figured to be a homer-fest. Instead Moss, with his 18th, became the only hitter to clear the wall.
Of the 26 hit against him this year, Dickey's allowed 19 home runs at the Rogers Centre and by fairly direct consequence, he's giving up two earned runs at home for every run on the road.
"He's a fly-ball guy, and the ball flies here," manager John Gibbons said.
Dickey won the Cy Young Award with the New York Mets last season with a unique ability to control his knuckleball high in the strike zone. On Sunday, Dickey shortened his stride, emphasized the low knuckler, and held the A's runless in six of his seven innings.
"Different venue, different climate – so many parameters affect the knuckleball – that's one of the beauties and the curses at the same time," he said.
Jose Reyes and Maicer Izturis popped out with the bases loaded in the second inning, and Jose Bautista fouled out to catcher Stephen Vogt in the fourth with three aboard. In the A's eighth, Alberto Callaspo hit a two-run double off left fielder Emilio Bonifacio's glove and the A's took a 6-3 lead into the ninth.
Two hours before the game, thousands lined up outside the stadium to collect a Lawrie bobblehead. Five hours later, Lawrie rewarded them with his third hit of the game, a run-scoring double off the hesitant Balfour to narrow the lead to two runs.
"It was hard to get comfortable in the box; the ball starts to look different on you when he's taking a minute between each pitch," Lawrie said. "He was throwing everything, everywhere."
Pinch hitters J.C. Arencibia and Rajai Davis drew walks to load the bases and bring Reyes to the plate. With the crowd clapping and chanting "Let's go, Blue Jays," Balfour took a break during the at-bat, striding over to discuss something with second base umpire Marty Foster. Reyes grounded out to end the game, and Balfour had his 30th save.
"I've never seen anything like that before," Reyes said. "That was unbelievable. A lot of stuff was going on out there. I don't know. That was crazy."
The series ends Monday, with an afternoon game. Starter J.A. Happ was moved up one day, and Josh Johnson will pitch on Wednesday instead. Todd Redmond is being recalled from Triple-A Buffalo to pitch Tuesday against Boston.