Unique, at times unimaginable and always unconventional. Though most Yankees stopped short of talking up R.A. Dickey's knuckleball too much, the words still managed to filter through, peppering discussion a full day before the pitching matchup and adding to the growing lore surrounding one of baseball's most unexpected resurgences.
"It's the most unique one," said Raul Ibanez, a former teammate of Dickey's who has faced him and former knuckleballers Tim Wakefield and Tom Candiotti. "He throws it harder than most knuckleballs I've seen and he mixes speeds on it . . . I think he does have control. I think he can make it break in the direction he wants it to break. He can make it dance. He can make it stay still."
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The keys to hitting a knuckleball seem self-explanatory. You can't chase anything out of the strike zone, Curtis Granderson said. You have to be ready to fight, Ibanez said. You have to look for mistakes that don't drop, don't dance and maybe favor an uppercut swing, Mark Teixeira said.
But Dickey's knuckleball presents its own set of challenges. It turns out that the only thing more unusual than a mop-topped, 37-year-old, Star Wars-loving, mountain-climbing pitcher at the peak of his career is what the ball does when it leaves his hand every fifth day.
"R.A. throws a little bit harder, and that's why he can control it better," said Teixeira, who played with Dickey on the Rangers and has gone 2-for-11 against him. "With Wakefield, you could be patient because he didn't know where it was going and it was tough to catch."
And has he ever faced someone like Dickey? "No," he said. "[Maybe in] Wiffle ball baseball in the backyard."
Joe Girardi, more circumspect when discussing Dickey's dominance, also ended up saying that yes, hitting this particular knuckleball (or trying to) is just a little bit weird.
"He's going to throw it anywhere from 70 to 80 mph, he's going to throw his fastball at 86 . . . but you're going to face a guy that's throwing 82, 86 [in Chris Young Saturday night]," Girardi said. "If [Dickey] gets it down, it really has, I don't know what effect you wanna say. It has that butterfly effect, where you don't know where it's going."
Even Ibanez, who has had success against Dickey (8-for-25 with three home runs), said it was "a dogfight.''
"You can watch video,'' he said, "but the knuckleball is such an unpredictable pitch.''
The biggest problem, Teixeira said, is that when thrown correctly, the knuckleball -- which has minimal rotation and breaks unpredictably -- is nearly impossible to hit.
Alex Rodriguez has found a way, having gone 6-for-13 against Dickey. But Dickey seems to have found the proverbial cheat code to winning games after grooming the pitch for years in what, for a long time, seemed like a fruitless attempt to significantly prolong his major-league career.
"That [was] a big leap of faith," Teixeira said. "I'm really happy for him, but hopefully [Sunday night], he has a little hiccup . . . He's made an unbelievable comeback."
In the end, Girardi said this just isn't your typical opponent. When asked if he is going to bring in a batting-practice knuckleballer, as Joe Torre used to do when Wakefield was scheduled to pitch, he said there are no plans to do that.
"They're not really lining up," he said. "Those guys aren't really easy to find."