Suzuki makes up for missed knuckleball

Passed ball on Dickey's pitch allows tying run, but C responds with big homer

April 27th, 2017

NEW YORK -- The knuckleball from R.A. Dickey fluttered in and took a severe late left turn, and missed it.

It happens. It's an accepted hazard of trying to catch a knuckleball. But this one bothered Suzuki more than most, because it allowed the tying run to score in the fourth inning of the Braves' Thursday afternoon game against the Mets.

"Just the competitor in me," the Braves catcher said. "If I'd only caught it, they don't score."

The Mets scored one run on the knuckleball he missed, but Thursday's game turned around half an inning later when Mets starter Matt Harvey threw a slider that Suzuki didn't miss at all. He sent it over the left-field fence for a three-run home run that set the Braves on course for a 7-5 win. It was his first homer of the season.

"It's great," Dickey said. "I felt like that was some poetry. The guy scored to tie the game. The first chance [Suzuki] gets, he absolves that."

Suzuki is in his 11th year catching in the Major Leagues, but he's just in his third month catching a knuckleball. He was charged with three passed balls in Dickey's first Braves start April 8 in Pittsburgh, but didn't have another one until the pitch that took a left turn and allowed to tie Thursday's game at 2.

Suzuki chased it to the backstop, and when he realized the run was going to score, he picked up the ball and flung it against the netting in frustration.

"That one had no spin, it broke late and it came in at face level, so his mitt blocked off his view of it," a sympathetic Dickey said. "All those micro-movements. He actually did a great job today. He got me a few [strikes]."

He also got Dickey the three-run home run that handed the Braves a 6-2 lead in the fifth. As Dickey said later, "I don't know if you realize it, but it's always much more fun to pitch with a lead."

He didn't get to do it for long. Dickey left the game after five innings and just 67 pitches because of a left quad spasm. He doesn't expect to miss a start, which should mean Suzuki gets another chance at catching knuckleballs next week.

"I want to be as good as I can be at it," Suzuki said. "I want to take pride in it."

He'd like to take pride in his hitting, too, but he came into Thursday with just four hits -- all singles -- in his first 25 at-bats this season. He walked in his first two plate appearances against Harvey, scoring a run in the second inning, before putting a big swing on the 1-1 slider.

"Against him, you've got to swing at pitches in the zone, give yourself a chance," Suzuki said. "[The home run] felt good, after letting that ball get by. Great timing, I guess."

This week's series at Citi Field was almost all good timing for the Braves, who arrived in New York with a six-game losing streak and left after back-to-back wins.

It was nice for Dickey, who won the 2012 National League Cy Young Award while pitching for the Mets, but hadn't made a start at Citi Field since being traded away the following winter. Dickey was originally scheduled to face , who the Mets acquired in that trade with the Blue Jays, but Syndergaard was scratched Thursday morning because of a "tired arm."

"I've got to be honest, it was pretty anticlimactic," Dickey said. "No Syndergaard. All the storylines that were built up weren't there."

The Suzuki storyline took over, and his teammates appreciated it. They see Dickey's knuckleball regularly, enough to appreciate what a challenge it is to catch.

"It was definitely nice for him to be the one to [hit the home run]," said Tyler Flowers, the Braves' other catcher. "Something I've been impressed by his ability to keep his confidence up. He's not panicking if he misses one."

He's not happy when he misses one, obviously. Suzuki hadn't had more than three passed balls in a season since he had four in 2012. Now he has four in April, all on Dickey knucklers.

The one Thursday cost the Braves a run. Soon enough, Suzuki got them three runs back. It's a tradeoff he and the Braves gladly accepted.