Challenge of the Knuckleball

(Busch Stadium) As the St. Louis Cardinals look to continue their 8-game win streak this afternoon, they will be faced with the challenge of R.A. Dickey starting for the Atlanta Braves.

“We faced him and played well right after,” pointed out Mike Matheny of facing the knuckleballer earlier this season. “Just go out and take care of your at-bats, don’t overthink it one way or the other.”

The Cardinals got to Dickey for four runs on eight hits, including 2 home runs, in six innings pitched as they beat the Braves 6-4 back on May 7th.

“I’ve seen guys try all different things and there isn’t a universal philosophy,” continued Matheny. “I shared with a couple of players if they were doing something that wasn’t quite working, this is something I noticed players doing against us when I was catching a knuckleballer that helped them have a little more success, try that.”

Through he was a catcher, Matheny’s knuckleball is “pretty good” and in the past, he’s been requested to throw it to players to help get them ready for the likes of Dickey. “Mainly because I’m willing,” downplayed Matheny. “Every baseball player has a knuckleball, some better than others.”

While there is no one approach at the plate, the same can be said for trying to catch the knuckleball.

“There were some days I used Bob Uecker’s strategy, which was after it hits the backstop and stops rolling, you pick it up,” said Matheny.

One game in particular stands out as Matheny shared he had 8 passed balls in a game catching Steve Sparks against the Red Sox.

“I remember it being Boston because every time I ran back to the backstop I was looking Peter Gammons in the eye and I knew that I was going to hear about it on SportsCenter and I did,” said Matheny. One of the Niekro brothers had been brought in to work with Sparks and their advice both worked and hurt at the same time.

“They told him that day to throw it as hard as he could possibly throw it and it was nasty–they couldn’t hit it and I couldn’t catch it.”

“It’s such a fickle pitch. Humidity, pressure, everything affects how it floats. It’s just not predictable.”

photo credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

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