Dickey comes to rescue of depleted bullpen with seven solid innings in Jays’ win over Astros
HOUSTON — From the moment of Carlos Correa’s walk-off hit in the 14th inning on Monday night, R.A. Dickey was completely aware he would have the entire pitching staff on his shoulders when he took the mound on Tuesday.
With a Blue Jay bullpen in disarray, he could not make a misstep. The team needed him to eat innings and they needed them to be quality innings. The Blue Jays offence was missing some of its spark without Troy Tulowitzki out and Josh Donaldson not 100 per cent.
Prior to the game, manager John Gibbons had fretted about who he would have available out of the bullpen and could only count on one of his regulars, Jason Grilli.
Okay then. Go get ’em R.A.
And that he did, tossing seven strong innings, muffling the Houston Astros’ offence and giving his team a chance to win. He didn’t need much offence and that’s what his mates gave him: two solo home runs but he made them stand up in a 2-1 victory as the Jays improved to 60-47.
“I’ve been feeling great, feeling strong,” said Dickey. “One of the differences tonight that was fairly dramatic for me was my command with the knuckleball. That might have been the first time all year that I haven’t walked anybody and if I can do that in the strike zone, I’m in for a good run here.
“I was really present-moment minded, just trying to get through one inning at a time. I was consistently ahead of a lot of hitters. I didn’t go into it thinking I had to pitch a complete game. I just wanted to compete hard.”
Houston may have lost more than a ball game. Their fine young starter, Lance McCullers, had to leave the game in the fifth inning and there is fear that his pitching elbow is damaged.
Dickey had some young company on the pitching pedestal. Danny Barnes, called up from Buffalo earlier Tuesday, pitched a scoreless eighth inning in his debut on the big stage to maintain the one-run lead. Grilli pitched a perfect ninth for his second save as a Blue Jay.
After talking with Gibbons before the game, Barnes knew there was a good chance he would be pitching at some point Tuesday night.
“I think there were only, like, three guys available, including Dickey, so there were not a lot of options,” he said with a wry smile.
Maybe it was a tip-off that something wasn’t right with McCullers when he gave up a two-out home run to Bautista in the third inning, then another to Edwin Encarnacion leading off the fourth.
McCullers had given up only three homers in 78 innings previously this season.
The Bautista milestone homer — it was his career 300th — left the yard in a nano-second, just clearing the wall in left. The Encarnacion homer, his 29th of the season, was a majestic thing to behold, caroming off the glass wall above the seating area in left field.
McCullers was replaced in the fifth inning by Joe Musgrove, Toronto’s first-round choice in the 2011 draft. Musgrove was part of the 10-player trade in 2012 that brought J.A. Happ to the Blue Jays for the first time.
It was Musgrove’s major-league debut and he was impressive, striking out eight of the 15 batters he faced. That ties a major-league record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher in his debut.
But Dickey was as good as he has been all season.
Dickey gave up a pair of two-out singles in the first inning but got out of that jam, then retired 17 of the next 19 batters he faced, allowing a fourth-inning single to Correa and a two-out sixth-inning base hit to Altuve.
In all, Dickey allowed six hits and a run. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out five.
Musgrove didn’t provide the only impressive major-league debut of the evening. Barnes, fresh off the farm in Buffalo, came out and retired the Astros in the eighth inning, pitching around a two-out Altuve single by striking out Correa to end the threat.
“It was probably good it was a tight situation because you can get caught up in the moment,” said Barnes. “This is a day I’ll never forget but because it was a tight game I was just focusing on getting three outs, get it to Grilli and win the game.”
Barnes learned he would be joining the Jays at about 1:40 a.m. on Tuesday morning and didn’t sleep a wink after that.
“It helped that I was a little tired,” he said. “I wasn’t out there like a bull in a china shop, trying to throw as hard as I can. I just took a deep breath and focused on my mechanics and hoped that the results were there.”