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BAL@NYM: Arrieta gives Orioles seven solid innings

NEW YORK -- Baltimore manager Buck Showalter had a heavy hand in creating the monstrous success of Mets righty R.A. Dickey, and on Monday night, the sensational knuckleballer turned Frankenstein on Showalter's Orioles.

Fresh off a dazzling one-hit outing on Wednesday night -- which New York tried to have overturned for a no-hitter -- Dickey just missed history again, using that dancing knuckleball to hold the Orioles to one hit in a complete-game effort that ended in a 4-0 series-opening win for the Mets at Citi Field.

It was Showalter -- then-manager of the Texas Rangers -- along with his pitching coach Orel Hershiser and bullpen coach Mark Connor who convinced Dickey more than seven years ago to give the knuckleball a try in the first place. A struggling right-hander at the time, Dickey took on the challenge, working long and hard at his craft before emerging this season as one of baseball's best stories.

"It's pleasant to see him, but not see him pitch," Showalter said of Dickey, who became the first Major League pitcher to toss back-to-back one-hitters since the Blue Jays' Dave Steib in 1988. "It's a challenging night. Hitters are seeing things they don't normally see. Umpires are seeing pitches they don't normally see. Tonight, it was a challenge for both."

Reflecting on the 37-year-old Dickey before the game, Showalter said, "He had everything you look for in a pitcher except the arm."

Now, Dickey has the pitch, a heavy knuckleball -- quicker than most traditional knucklers -- that was on full display Monday night, sending Orioles batters back to the dugout in fits.

"I really felt like, all along, if I put in the time and energy and dedication to it -- and look, I'm not saying that that's the only reason, but I've always hoped for a good knuckleball, and that's what I'm producing out there now," said Dickey, who picked up a career-high 13 strikeouts in the process. "I don't feel like it's a dream, but I do feel like it's fun and enjoyable, and I'm glad to be able to celebrate it in this moment."

There wasn't any celebrating going on in the Orioles' dugout, as Baltimore was completely dominated and couldn't advance a runner past first base. The ball would leave Dickey's hand and look like it was floating in as a strike before darting to the side, or start off looking like a ball only to end square in the middle of the plate, safely in catcher Josh Thole's mitt as the O's stared in half-disbelief.

"He's not like [Tim] Wakefield flipping it up there 60 miles an hour, this guy is throwing with some velocity on it," said Chris Davis, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. "He's got a couple of different looks, and he still throws some other pitches, too, to complement that. He's throwing anywhere from 78 to 83 miles an hour -- that's a hard knuckleball. You just got to grit your teeth and bear it."

"I don't know how he can control it and throw it over the plate," added shortstop J.J. Hardy. "He's got to be right up there [among the best pitchers the Orioles have faced this season]. It's tough, it's really tough."

The Orioles' lone hit came with two outs in the fifth inning from Wilson Betemit, who laced a single into right-center field to snap Dickey's franchise-record hitless mark at 12 innings. He proceeded to get Steve Pearce to fly out to end any hint of a momentum, and has now gone 42 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.

"Personally, I think [Dickey] is the best pitcher in the game right now," said Orioles starter Jake Arrieta, who worked a third-inning walk and turned in seven solid innings despite battling a stomach virus over the weekend that nearly caused him to be scratched.

The 26-year-old Arrieta kept pace with Dickey early, but grooved a first-pitch sinker to Ike Davis for a pivotal sixth-inning grand slam. Dickey opened that inning with a single, and after Jordany Valdespin's double to left field, Arrieta walked Lucas Duda to load the bases. Davis blasted the 92-mph offering to deep center field, eclipsing the wall for his first career grand slam and seventh homer of the season.

"He was outstanding, except for one pitch," Showalter said of Arrieta, who continues to show signs of getting back on track after being briefly demoted to the bullpen following a tough seven-start stretch.

"The most impressive inning he pitched was the [scoreless seventh] inning after the four runs. You knew there was going to be a fine margin of error, what was going on with Dickey, all things included"

Davis' blast, which netted him a career-high four RBIs, snapped the Orioles' scoreless streak at 25 innings and was more than enough for Dickey, who cruised to his Major League-leading 11th win of the season.

Just how good has Dickey been as of late?

Consider this: Dickey has recorded seven consecutive starts of eight strikeouts or more with two walks or less and has turned in a quality outing in his last 11 starts dating back to April 25. He is also 9-0 with a 1.21 ERA over that span and has not allowed an earned run since May 22 at Pittsburgh, with the Rays scoring an unearned run in the ninth inning of his last start.

"When you think about [Sandy] Koufaxes and [Tom] Seavers and those guys, with the greats of the greats, you know, 97 mph fastballs and great curveballs, and [Dwight] Goodens and [Justin] Verlanders, and this guy is just amazing with that pitch," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Dickey. "You know, pitch selection is pretty easy, and it's about command, and how he commands it is unbelievable."

And the fact that Dickey's audience -- which included the 29,014 at Citi Field who gave him a long standing ovation -- also featured a man he has called one of the most influential people on his career, wasn't lost on the thoughtful righty.

"You know, and this is a tip of the hat to him: It was fairly poetic, I thought," Dickey said of Showalter being in the opposing dugout for one of the most dominant games of his career.

"The last game he saw me pitch live, I gave up six home runs and tied a modern-day Major League record. Look, only God could script a narrative like this. It's really incredible."

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