R. A. Dickey heard the ovation from the 31,508 fans at CitiField Thursday afternoon. They cheered when he took the mound, came to bat, and was removed from the game with two outs in the seventh inning with the New York Mets holding a 6-3 lead.
It was the final home game of the season for the Mets and significant because Dickey had his turn moved up with an opportunity to win number 20. He did not disappoint and became the first knuckleball pitcher to win twenty games since 1980.
The Mets took the finale from the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-4.taking two of three games and it was a celebration for Dickey, his manager, team, and the fans. And it looked and sounded like a playoff atmosphere, even though the Mets will conclude their fourth straight losing season.
His manager, Terry Collins, as he has done all season with the knuckleball pitcher asked him an inning before, “I said look this ballpark is filled with energy today use it to your advantage. These people deserve to see you walk off the mound.”
Dickey left to standing ovation and tipped his hat to the crowd in that seventh inning. He was relieved by Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell, and watched from the clubhouse. Rauch would give up a one-out two run home run to Alex Presley.
Had the Mets eventually lost and if Dickey failed to achieve the milestone, as he always says, getting his team getting a win would be more important.
When it was over, Dickey said, “It’s like a big exhale.” He did not want his exploits to be a center of attention as he got closer to the 20th win. After all, the 37-year-old right hander, who has overcome adversity, had never won more than 11 games in his big league career.
“This was about R.A. Dickey today,” said Collins. “It was about him. It was about his connection with the fans, with the city.’ Collins has this respect for Dickey that was heard all season. He reiterated more than once, before Dickey arrived in the conference room to meet with media, that this was a day for his pitcher.
He told Dickey he had to walk off the mound, just when Dickey knew he was running out of energy. Collins was telling him that the connection had to be used. A connection, because this has been a Mets season of futility that will conclude with the good vibes and memories that now come with the first Mets pitcher to win 20- games since Frank Viola went 20-12 in 1990.
“Had R.A. not done what he did, it’s hard to tell where we’d be,” commented Collins.
Now, Dickey will also be in the discussion for the National League CY Young Award along with Gio Gonzlaez of the Nationals, another 20-game winner and Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds.
“That is a little surreal,” commented Dickey about the top award for a pitcher. “But who doesn’t want to win a CY Young Award. I want to be the best, but who doesn’t want to be the best. I want to enjoy this before I think about that.
He said he was an example of a mediocre pitcher that was signed to a spring training contract in 2010 by prior Mets General Manager Omar Minaya. The true story was told with his best seller book “Where ever I wind up” that hit the stores in March and prior to the Mets giving him an opportunity, the career was just about over.
But the knuckleball saved him.
“But it wasn’t about him, it was never about him, “said Collins who like any manager and opposing player is marveled about a pitch that flutters and tends to constantly fool the hitter.
The Pirates were fooled as Dickey also struck out a career tying 13 that increased his National League best total to 222. It was the seventh time this season he reached double figures, also a league best and the 12 pitches thrown were the second most in his career.
“It’s not an easy pitch to hit and he is so good at what he does,” commented Pirates’ third baseman Pedro Alvarez, a victim of three Dickey strikeouts.” And even if Dickey does not go on and win the CY Young, the players will say what a great story this has been.
Travis Snyder who made the catch of the year in right at Citi Field that robbed a home run from Mike Baxter in the second as the ball appeared to go over the fence, “Congratulations to him (Dickey) on a great year and a great story.”
David Wright continued his strong finish with an opposite field home run to right for his 21st home run of the season that gave Dickey and the Mets a 6-3 lead in the fifth.
“There were times he picked us up and really carried us as a team on his back,” he said about Dickey. “I was happy to provide the hit that made the difference.”
Dickey allowed three runs and eight hits. He claimed, “About the fourth or fifth inning I felt exasperated. I was not myself today for the most part.” The Pirates would score two runs in the second and another in the fourth.
He said the fans changed his ability to throw the proper knuckler that was clocked at 78. “And then I would come out for an at bat and I would hear this kind of growing surge and it was really neat. I don’t know if I have experienced something like that before.”
“Although I wasn’t distracted from the moment, how could you not be motivated to go out there and give the fans, and well your teammates and yourself all that you have?”
Dickey certainly gave the fans all he had, and something they had to smile about as they went home. A season like this may be difficult to duplicate for him, and in sports that may be asking too much.
And for a season that went well for the Mets in the first half and crumbled in the second, seeing Dickey at Citi Field win Number 20 was good enough for them.
E-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring76@aol.com or Facebook.com/Keep it In the Ring