Knuckleballer Dickey wins 20th game for Mets
By ANDREW KEH
The New York Times | September 28,2012
NEW YORK — R.A. Dickey, 37, baseball’s lone knuckleballer, a pitcher missing a key ligament in his elbow, an author, a mountain climber and the subject of a new documentary film, has done much to distinguish himself during a colorful career.
And now add this: Dickey on Thursday afternoon became the first New York Mets pitcher in 22 years to win 20 games in a single season, guiding the Mets, a team closing out a long-forsaken season, to a stimulating 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field.
In becoming the sixth pitcher in franchise history — and the first since Frank Viola in 1990 — to reach the number, Dickey also greatly bolstered his chances to win the National League Cy Young Award, which no Mets pitcher has done since Dwight Gooden in 1985 and no knuckleballer has ever done in either league.
Among Dickey’s other unlikely feats, he has maintained some verve and interest within the Mets’ fan base. Every fifth day this year, he conjured his magic to break the dreary spell cast over the pitiable team, which spiraled out of playoff contention much earlier this summer. For the players, deprived of unified purpose, Dickey’s individual quest afforded a cause to rally around.
For this, Citi Field, a veritable ghost town for the past two weeks, came to life Thursday, as an announced crowd of 31,506 — the crowd appeared closer to 20,000, at best — watched with fascination and in full voice as he chased history.
Yet things started inauspiciously for Dickey. He allowed the Pirates to jump ahead with a pair of run-scoring hits in the second, and he erred again two innings later, when he served a flat, 0-2 knuckleball to Rod Barajas, who crushed a home run into the left-field stands. After four innings, Dickey had thrown 69 pitches and allowed seven hits. But he persisted, and his teammates followed his lead.
Ike Davis got the Mets going with a home run in the bottom of the second, and two innings later the Mets crept within one when Scott Hairston shot a run-scoring single into right field.
The lively fans at Citi Field, enjoying a rare meaningful game, erupted when the Mets took the lead the next inning. Daniel Murphy singled to center, cashing in Andres Torres’ leadoff walk. Then, with two men on base, David Wright crushed a home run into right-center field, keying an extended standing ovation that lasted the duration of a pitching change.
The affection for Dickey was plain, and the fans roared when he came out to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning even though the Mets led and he had 111 pitches under his belt. They cheered just as hard when he reached on a swinging bunt and loudly again after he was called out at second on a fielder’s choice.
But more invigorating was his pitching performance. Dickey struck out 13 hitters, tying a career high mark, while throwing 92 of his 128 pitches for strikes. He left the game with two outs in the top of the eighth, gazing around the ballpark before tipping his cap to the fans.
Nervous energy filled the stadium in the ninth after Jon Rauch allowed a two-run home run to let the Pirates within one. Fans found their catharsis when Jose Tabata flied out against Bobby Parnell to end the game.
The Mets and their fans will now hope Dickey can find the same fate as Steve Carlton, who was 27-10 for the last-place Philadelphia Phillies 30 years ago. Carlton won the Cy Young Award that season.