Once A Journeyman, Mets’ Dickey Wins 20th

Published on: 27th September, 2012

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New York – It’s been a very long, mostly unproductive major league baseball career for R.A. Dickey, the New York Mets pitcher. But at age 37, having endured more disappointments in the baseball business than anyone has a right to expect, Dickey reached the pinnacle of his profession this afternoon, winning his 20th game of the season while leading his Mets to a 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field.

In reaching a pitching milestone usually reserved for the elite of the sport, Dickey, a nine year veteran who came into this season with a lifetime record of 41-50, accomplished the 20-win plateau with a Mets team that is 12 games under .500 and whose won-loss record without Dickey’s 20-6 performance would be 52-78, a won-loss percentage of .400 that would give the Mets the fourth-worst record out of baseball’s 30 teams.

Dickey had never won more than 11 games in any of his previous seasons and was coming off an 8-13 record with the Mets last season. What he has done this year is nothing short of shocking. Quite a turnaround from 2010, when the then 35-year old began the season at Triple-A Buffalo and had to prove he belonged in the majors.

“I was the picture of mediocrity by my own admission,” he said.

In front of a frenetic crowd of 31,506 patrons who reacted to each pitch as if today’s matchup was the seventh game of the World Series instead of a contest between two also-ran teams out of the playoff hunt, Dickey did not disappoint. He struck out a career-tying 13 batters over his 7 2/3 innings, increasing his NL-best strikeout total to 222 while holding the Pirates to three runs on a day he not only felt he didn’t have his best stuff but admitted to being caught up in the emotion of this moment. He was painfully aware that he was trying to reach a milestone he had no reason to even dream about, based on his career production.

“It was as hard as it’s ever been to not get emotional today,” said Dickey. “This day was as much about the fans as it was about me. It’s hard because we’ve had the type of season we’ve had.”

“This is just a game, a collaboration of individual accomplishments that hopefully leads to a successful season so it’s hard to really sink into a day like today, knowing our season could have gone differently. At the same time, I feel like this moment transcends that in a way, as far as the connection to the fans and the support they’ve given me.”

But in the late stages of his career, Dickey, short on fastball velocity and never one to break off a great curveball, mastered the knuckler — a pitch that confuses most of those who have tried to throw it – or hit it, for that matter. It turned him from just another guy, the true epitome of a journeyman, to entering the conversation for the National League’s Cy Young Award, given to the best pitcher in the league.

Heady stuff but Dickey, feet planted firmly on the ground, comprehends the process that has lead him to the top of his profession at the unlikely age of 37.

“For me, in my career, you just want to compete,” he said. “Then, once you have the weaponry to compete, you want to be really good. And then, once you’re really good, you want to be supernaturally good. I think, for me, there’s been a steady metamorphosis from first, just trying to survive to second, becoming a craftsman. And ultimately, the hope is to be an artist at what you do. This year is kind of representative of that. “

As today’s game moved along in the early innings, Dickey fell behind 3-1, and wasn’t feeling sharp.

“To be honest, by the fourth or fifth inning, I felt exasperated,” he said. “I was not myself today, for the most part. Maybe it was mental fatigue, I’m not sure but then I would come out for an at bat. I would hear this growing surge from the crowd and it really was neat. I don’t know if I ever experienced something like that before and maybe I never will again. But, how can you not be motivated to go out there and give the fans and your teammates everything you’ve got. I just kept trying to go because they had come to watch me pitch, to watch me go for 20 wins and I wanted to give them that gift.”

If you’re a Mets fan, how can you not love a guy like this?

Before the game, those adoring fans gave Dickey large ovations when he walked to the bullpen to warm up, when he came back to the dugout, when he took the mound and each time he batted. When he came out after walking Pirate outfielder, Travis Snider in the eighth, he tipped his cap to the excited fans, exchanged high-fives with teammates in the dugout and took a seat on the bench.

“I never completely abandoned the hope of being a successful major leaguer,” Dickey added.” When I was in the minor leagues, in 2005 when I started developing the knuckleball, I could remember running on the streets after I put my kids down for the night. Just visualizing what it would be like to perform well. I would visualize the grip and my mechanics. I never abandoned the hope.”

It is an amazing story when you break it down. Very few major leaguers have their best seasons at Dickey’s age (notwithstanding the scourge of steroids) but this guy has lived and breathed the sport through all of his baseball challenges. You’ve got to root for a guy like this. It’s the stuff movies are made of.

Mets Notes: Dickey became the first Mets pitcher with 20 wins in a season since 1990, when Frank Viola went 20-12. He tied Gio Gonzalez for the most wins in the majors with his win today over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dickey joins Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, Frank Viola, and David Cone as the only Mets to win at least 20 games in a season.

Dickey is now tied for the NL lead in wins, and leads in strikeouts, innings pitched (229.2), complete games (5), and shutouts (3). He has the second-lowest ERA (2.69) in the NL.

Dickey is the first 20-game winner on a below .500 team since 1997, when Roger Clemens went 21-7 for the Toronto Blue Jays, who finished their season 76-86.

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