TORONTO — The Rogers Centre was sold out, there was a rock star in the house and R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball was dancing.
All the ingredients seemed to be present under the dome for an Opening Day launch befitting the retooled Blue Jays.
But Cleveland pitcher Justin Masterson kept the Jays bats in check and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera made key plays on defence and offence as the Indians spoiled Dickey’s Toronto debut with a 4-1 win before an Opening Day crowd of 48,857 on Tuesday night.
“I know they’re all disappointed,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said of the fans. “We’re not. That’s part of baseball. We just got outplayed tonight. But they’ll be back. We’ve got a good ball club. They’ll be back. They’ll have a fun, entertaining year this year, I believe.”
Still the loss may be a splash of cold water on the face of Toronto fans already planning a championship parade given the extensive, expensive roster remake over the winter. Cleveland planted a few seeds of reality under the dome but there is still plenty of the time for the Jays to harvest wins.
Cabrera hit a two-run homer for the Indians, who took advantage of some early passed balls as Dickey’s fledgling partnership with catcher J.P. Arencibia showed some teething problems.
Dickey (0-1) went six innings in his first Opening Day start, giving up four runs (three earned) on five hits with four strikeouts, four walks and a wild pitch.
He threw 104 pitches, including 60 strikes.
“Tonight was a real special night for me,” Dickey said. “Sure because it was an Opening Night but the welcome I got from the fans was borderline supernatural. I mean it was pretty awesome. And again, deep down you want so badly to give them a great show and you want to entertain them and you want to pitch a one-hitter and all of that.”
“But I think everybody that came tonight understands that we’ve got a pretty good ballclub and the season is not won or lost on Opening Night,” Dickey added.
Adrenalin may have accounted for his knuckleball dancing too much, he suggested.
“Early on, in particular, it was moving pretty violently at the plate and you saw that manifested in J.P. struggling with it a little bit,” said Dickey, who went six innings for a 16th consecutive start dating back to last season with the Mets.
Masterson (1-0) struck out five and walked four while giving up one earned run and three hits in his six innings. His pitch count was close to Dickey’s: 103 pitches, 61 strikes. Indians closer Chris Perez earned the save.
The Indians starter said it took a while to get his mechanics right since he was “pushing” the sinker at times
“So once I was able to get that arm sliding and get through the ball, I was able to throw balls harder and in essence it makes it look like I was stronger as the game went on,” he explained. “I just felt more comfortable within my mechanics. It was great. Guys were making some great plays behind me too. It was a good solid team effort today.”
Toronto left five on base over the first three innings and then Masterson found his touch — he dismissed 11 in a row starting in the third. Some sharp Cleveland fielding also helped blunt the Toronto attack.
The Jays’ starting lineup featured five newcomers: shortstop Jose Reyes, outfielder Melky Cabrera, third baseman Maicer Izturis, second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and Dickey. The quintet is due to make US$28.85 million this season.
The five are among 11 new faces on the Jays’ 25-man revamped roster this season, boosting total payroll to north of $125 million.
The Indians also boasted a new look with manager Terry Francona and free agent signings Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds.
Francona savoured the win.
“I was so nervous the whole game. It surprised me,” he said. “I think I kind of came to realize early in the game how much I care about these guys already. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I was a nervous wreck, which hopefully will go away — hopefully not the caring part but the nervous part — because I went through three things of tobacco. My tongue is like four sizes too big right now.”
Rush rock star Geddy Lee threw out the first pitch on a night that felt more like a playoff game than the season opener with an enthusiastic pompon-waving crowd. The first chant of “Let’s go Blue Jays” echoed before the anthems,
The sellout crowd made for some good viewing later, with a lower bowl section moving in unison — like a wheat field in the wind — to evade a foul ball whipped low into the stands. But the Indians did their bit to quell the fans.
Dickey and Masterson both took their time finding their rhythm. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young Award-winner was throwing in the high 70s m.p.h. while Masterson was in the mid-90s.
Dickey, who came out to his beloved “Star Wars” music, opened with a ball that eluded Arencibia. The catcher had three passed balls on the night.
“Sometimes you throw a good knuckleball, nobody’s catching it,” said Dickey. “It’s just the way it is. But those happen once every couple of games. We’ll fix it. He’s going to be fine.”
Catching the knuckleball is challenging more than frustrating, said Arencibia. Misses have to be put behind you.
“Because there’s going to be pitches that he throws that no one could have caught — unless you have a fish net that’s for large fish, it’s not going to see an easy ball to catch,” he said.
Gibbons didn’t blame his catcher, noting that his offence provided just one run. But he said Arencibia and Henry Blanco would both catch Dickey during the season.