TORONTO — The dancing, floating knuckleball that R.A. Dickey throws can handcuff the best hitters in baseball.
When the pitch gets away from him, it can also be quite costly.
Dickey issued a pair of bases-loaded walks in the fourth inning Monday night and that was enough for the Tampa Bay Rays to shade Toronto 2-1 and spoil the Blue Jays’ home opener before a sellout crowd at Rogers Centre.
“I throw a knuckleball. Some would come out, they would move a ton. Some would come out, they would stay high,” Dickey said. “I lost my release point a little bit in the fourth. They really made me work.
“They did a good job of laying off some really close pitches and I didn’t make the big pitch when I had to.”
The Blue Jays couldn’t get much going against Tampa Bay starter Jake Odorizzi, who held Toronto to two hits and one earned run over eight innings. Brad Boxberger worked the ninth for his third save.
“We ran into a guy tonight that we need to give our due to,” Dickey said. “He pitched a great game. He was throwing three pitches for strikes, very sharp, keeping guys off balance. It’s hard to run through our lineup like that at home. He was very, very good. So sometimes you just have to give credit to the other guy.
“But we’ve got a lot of things to be upbeat about. Nobody’s going to hang their head.”
The game was the first in a four-game series between the American League East clubs. It’s part of a 10-game homestand for the Blue Jays (4-3), who won their first two series on the road.
Odorizzi (2-0) gave up a pair of two-out walks in the opening inning. A wild pitch put both runners in scoring position but the right-hander caught Josh Donaldson looking to get out of it.
In the third inning, the Rays (4-3) put runners on second and third after an infield single, walk and a balk. But Dickey (0-1) got cleanup hitter Evan Longoria to fly out to end the threat.
Desmond Jennings and Allan Dykstra stroked back-to-back singles to open the fourth. Rene Rivera popped up and Dickey made Kevin Kiermaier wave at a knuckleball for a strikeout.
Tim Beckham walked to load the bases and David DeJesus worked a full count. The towel-waving crowd of 48,414 tried to will Dickey to a third strike but he was well wide of the plate to give Tampa Bay its first run.
The veteran right-hander walked in a second run by giving another free pass to Steven Souza Jr. Asdrubal Cabrera flew out to end the Tampa half of the inning.
Odorizzi, meanwhile, settled in after his shaky opening frame. The Blue Jays didn’t get a hit until Kevin Pillar’s two-out double in the fifth inning and Devon Travis lashed a single to drive in Toronto’s only run.
Dickey allowed three hits and two earned runs over six innings. He had six strikeouts but walked five batters.
Roberto Osuna worked two innings of relief for Toronto and Aaron Loup pitched the ninth. Jose Bautista walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth but was caught stealing after Edwin Encarnacion struck out.
“That might have been as big a play as we’ve had so far this season,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “I just saw the highlight of (Rivera’s) throw. That was a bullet down there.”
Donaldson hit a towering fly ball to the warning track to end the game, which took two hours 30 minutes to play.
The Rays outhit the Blue Jays 3-2.
The Blue Jays have lost four straight home openers for the first time in franchise history. Toronto fell to 26-13 in home openers, with a 16-10 mark at Rogers Centre.