A knuckleball is a weird, tricky, sometimes devastating, sometimes not devastating pitch that takes years to master and throw with any kind of reliability.
So how did the Astros prepare to face the most notable knuckleballer of the last five years? They turned to someone who used to throw that pitch in his career. Luckily for Houston, he was around at the time.
To prepare for R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays, according to John Lott of the National Post, the Astros asked their radio broadcast man, Steve Sparks, to pitch batting practice to them. Why? Sparks pitched for nine years in the major leagues and was primarily known as a knuckleballer. Sparks also pitched batting practice last season when Toronto brought R.A. Dickey to the mound against Houston. The strategy worked, even though Toronto beat the Astros, as Dickey was tagged for five runs in six innings.
They did it again on Thursday night, railing on Dickey for five runs in seven innings this time, and they beat Toronto. Jonathan Villar and Robbie Grossman hit homers off of Dickey, and manager Bo Porter credited that to Sparks throwing his knuckler during batting practice.