Knuckleballers are notoriously hard to predict. Beyond the "any given day" issue, the knuckleball can be baffling one day, and be batting practice the next—or even inning to inning, or at-bat to at-bat.
Today, alas, for R. A. Dickey, it was not to be one of his better days, as he barely resembled the reigning NL Cy Young award winner of a year ago. His knuckleball was fooling no one in the first inning, as the first five Red Sox batters all managed to reach safely and score. For the second straight game, Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double, but luckily, number two hitter Shane Victorino decided to bring in the second hit much sooner than yesterday. Dustin Pedroia singled to bring in Ellsbury, and then Mike Napoli doubled to bring in Victorino and Pedroia. And then the fireworks began.
Will Middlebrooks stepped into the batter's box, and took his first pitch all the way past the right field wall. The homer would make the score 5-0. But the show would just be getting started. The Red Sox would plate a sixth run in the third courtesy of a Daniel Nava sacrifice fly scoring Middlebrooks following a double and a wild pitch, and another in the fourth by way of a Jose Iglesias double and Ellsbury single.
While R. A. Dickey's day was awful, Jon Lester was one of the few major-league pitchers not to come up lame. From the start of the day, Lester's pitches befuddled and bedeviled the Blue Jays all day long. Even in the second inning, in which he managed to allow two base runners, he was in complete command of the game, quickly shutting down any threats, sometimes himself, sometimes with a little help from his friends. However, the most impressive defensive play of the day came from none other than Middlebrooks, who lunged for a Maicer Izturis grounder, and fired on the run to Daniel Nava to notch the final out of the fourth inning. It was more or less cruise control after that, with Lester going seven strong, striking out six, with no earned runs and no walks to mar his excellent outing.
Then, in leading off the fifth inning, Middlebrooks notched his third hit of the day (he had a double in his second at-bat), hitting a 3-2 pitch out of the park, this time to the upper deck in left, giving the Sox an 8-0 lead and hastening Dickey's exit from the game. Dickey would leave after just 4.2 innings, surrendering eight runs, seven of them earned.
However, Middlebrooks's day still wasn't done. In the top of the seventh, Middlebrooks took a Dave Bush pitch deep to left, scoring his third home run of the day and fourth of the young season. And, continuing his strong supporting actor role for the day, Daniel Nava decided to join in the home run hijinks, giving the Sox their first back-to-back homers of the season, a 10-0 lead, and the ability to hear the Rogers Centre crowd booing their own team. Jacoby Ellsbury also joined in the home-run games, making it an 11-0 party in the top of the eighth. Even Mike Napoli couldn't hold out any longer, scoring the Elf to make it 13-0. Middlebrooks had a valiant bid at a fourth homer, but this one died on the warning track; a second shot was denied in the ninth when Brett Cecil struck out the side swinging.
Clayton Mortensen came on in relief of Lester in the eighth inning, allowing only a single to Jose Reyes, and continued into the ninth, notching three strikeouts. The only adventure was a brief moment when a somewhat wild Pedro Ciriaco throw to Mike Carp went a little wild and was momentarily ruled an error instead of a hit.
But with that, the Sox completed their second series win of the year with a complete demolition of the Blue Jays, and head home to face the Baltimore Orioles in their home opener. After yesterday's brutal loss, this was definitely the way to bounce back.