R.A. Dickey saved his career by cultivating a knuckleball. Now he’s using it to rewrite the Mets‘ record book as baseball’s most dominant pitcher.
Dickey became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters and Ike Davis hit a grand slam to lead New York past the Baltimore Orioles 5-0 on Monday night.
Coming off a one-hit gem at Tampa Bay last Wednesday, Dickey struck out a career-high 13 and allowed only Wilson Betemit’s clean single in the fifth inning. He has not permitted an earned run in 42 2-3 innings, the second-longest stretch in club history behind Dwight Gooden’s streak of 49 innings in 1985.
“I don’t really feel much more confident than I did the last couple years,” Dickey said. “I’ve always felt like I have a pretty good knuckleball. I worked hard to do that.”
The previous pitcher to spin consecutive one-hitters was Dave Stieb for Toronto in September 1988, according to STATS LLC. The Mets said the last to match the feat — or top it — in the National League was Jim Tobin with the 1944 Boston Braves, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. Tobin tossed a one-hitter followed by a no-hitter.
The 37-year-old Dickey (11-1) walked two and became the first 11-game winner in the majors, befuddling Baltimore with knucklers that ranged from 66-81 mph in a game that took just 2 hours, 7 minutes. He fanned the final two hitters and four of his last five, topping his previous career best of 12 strikeouts set Wednesday against the Rays.
“Yeah, it’s surreal,” Dickey said. “You almost get emotional out there, especially that last hitter. You hear everybody, like one big heartbeat beating. That’s the best way I could explain it.”
A longtime journeyman before joining the Mets in 2010, Dickey has won a career-best nine straight decisions and six consecutive starts. He is tied for the major league lead in ERA (2.00), strikeouts (103) and complete games (three).
It was his fourth game this season with double-digit strikeouts, most in the majors, and the fifth of his career. The right-hander has an incredible 71 strikeouts and six walks in his last seven starts.
“I’m going to leave it to you guys to explain it. I’m just going to try to be in the moment with it,” said Dickey, a deeply religious deep thinker.
Betemit’s two-out single in the fifth ended Dickey’s franchise-record streak of 13 hitless innings.
“Do I have a chance to appeal that base hit? Did anybody dive for that ball? I got a bad view,” Mets manager Terry Collins said, drawing laughs.
The only blemish Wednesday night was B.J. Upton’s infield single with two outs in the first, a high bouncer that third baseman David Wright tried to field with his bare hand.
After the game, the Mets appealed the official scoring decision to Major League Baseball, asking the commissioner’s office to review the play and consider whether Wright should be charged with an error, thus giving Dickey the team’s second no-hitter this month. The appeal was denied and Dickey said he was relieved, explaining that there would have been “an asterisk by it bigger than the no-hitter itself.”
The only active knuckleballer in the majors, Dickey has a 1.21 ERA and 88 strikeouts during his nine-game winning streak. It was his fifth career shutout and second this season, both in June. Pretty amazing for a guy who relies on a seemingly uncontrollable pitch that he throws harder and with more precision than just about anyone else who’s made a living on it.
“He has no wild pitches this year. That’s impressive,” Baltimore slugger Adam Jones said. “He’s in a groove.”
The Mets said Dickey has made five straight starts with no earned runs allowed and at least eight strikeouts, the longest streak in major league history, according to Elias.
One of the people Dickey can thank for his incredible success story is Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was instrumental in persuading the pitcher to remake himself into a knuckleballer when both were with the Texas Rangers.
“He had every attribute of a major league pitcher except the arm,” Showalter said, his thoughts then turning to the fact that his team was about to face Dickey. “I wish it hadn’t happened.”
After the game, Dickey said he would be remiss not to thank Showalter.
“You know, and this is a tip of the hat to him: It was fairly poetic, I thought. The last game he saw me pitch live I gave up six home runs and tied a modern-day major league record,” Dickey said. “It’s really incredible.”
A member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee, Dickey was devastated when the Rangers reduced their signing-bonus offer from more than $800,000 to $75,000 after they discovered during a physical that he was missing a major ligament in his pitching elbow.
Undeterred, perseverance got him to the big leagues anyway. When he failed, the knuckleball brought him back.
Committed to his craft, Dickey enlisted the help of former knuckleballers like Charlie Hough and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. Along the way, teammates and fans were introduced to his unique personality: A voracious reader, Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in January to raise money for charity and released an autobiography that revealed suicidal thoughts and the sexual abuse he endured as a child.
He’s even featured in a documentary film called “Knuckleball.”
Dickey made his mark at the plate on Monday, too, sparking New York’s big rally with a leadoff single in the sixth against Jake Arrieta (3-9). Jordany Valdespin doubled with one out and Dickey had to scramble back to third after he initially broke the wrong way on Wright’s lineout to shortstop. The pitcher barely beat the throw with a headfirst dive, which turned out to be a crucial play.
Lucas Duda walked and Davis hit the next pitch just to the left of center for his seventh home run of the year and first career slam.
Valdespin tripled off Kevin Gregg in the eighth and scored on Wright’s single. The Mets, who lead the NL with seven shutouts, had lost three straight and nine of 13.
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