NEW YORK -- Contrary to popular belief, or at least to common sense, there is still room for R.A. Dickey to improve. Dickey estimated that he threw approximately 10 knuckleballs on Monday that did not knuckle -- at least not to the extent that he has come to expect. The Orioles did not punish any of them.
In that sense, better results may somehow still be possible for Dickey, who threw his second consecutive one-hitter in a 5-0 Mets victory over the Orioles. Equally as dominant as he was last Wednesday in Tampa Bay, Dickey struck out a career-high 13 and walked two at Citi Field, and has now given up a total of one hit over his last 17 innings.
Afterward, manager Terry Collins compared him to "the Koufaxes and Seavers" of baseball lore. Dickey has not allowed an earned run over his last 42 2/3 innings, closing in on Dwight Gooden's franchise record of 49. He is the only pitcher in Major League history to submit five straight starts with no earned runs and at least eight strikeouts. Dickey became the third pitcher since 1945 to hurl back-to-back one-hitters, joining Sam McDowell (1966) and Dave Stieb (1988).
"This guy is just amazing with that pitch," Collins said. "Pitch selection is pretty easy. It's about command, and the way he commands it is unbelievable."
When Ike Davis hit a grand slam in the sixth inning to give the Mets their first runs of the night, the game effectively ended. Dickey struck out six batters over his final three innings, including four of the last five Orioles he faced. Many were left marveling about Dickey's signature pitch, while their manager, Buck Showalter -- one of the driving forces behind Dickey adopting the pitch full-time in 2005 -- groused about the umpires.
"He obviously knows what he's doing," Showalter said of Dickey.
But knowing and executing are two different things. Right now, Dickey is executing as well as -- if not better than -- any knuckleball pitcher in history.
When Wilson Betemit rapped out a two-out single in the fifth inning to break up Dickey's no-hit bid, the 29,014 fans at Citi Field rose in unison to serenade him. Given Dickey had not allowed a hit in a franchise-record 12 consecutive innings, dating back to B.J. Upton's controversial single in the first inning of his last outing, a sense of surprise -- if not downright shock -- rippled through the stadium.
That is how good Dickey has been. Starved of a no-hitter for more than five decades, Mets fans are now taken aback when one of their pitchers gives up a hit.
"Only God could script a narrative like this," Dickey said. "It's really incredible."
Dickey also called it "poetic," in part because Showalter was the Rangers' manager who, in no uncertain terms, told him seven years ago that the knuckleball was his last and only chance to revive a floundering career.
Five years later, Dickey found consistency with the pitch in New York. In the two years since, he has only improved.
"This is the best I've ever seen it," said catcher Josh Thole, who has shadowed Dickey's run with the Mets since the beginning. "I've caught him for parts of three years, and tonight was the best knuckleball."
A more modest redemption story unfolded for Davis in the sixth, after Dickey sparked the winning rally with a leadoff single against Orioles starter Jake Arrieta. Moving to third on Jordany Valdespin's double, Dickey plunged headfirst back into third base to avoid a double play on David Wright's lineout, before Lucas Duda walked to load the bases with two outs.
That brought up Davis, who crushed his first career grand slam to left-center field, and has now strung together a nine-game hitting streak. The first baseman's .462 batting average over that span has increased his season mark by 38 points in barely more than a week.
"I just honestly want to help the team win every day," Davis said. "I don't need the personal stats. I just like to feel a part of the team, and obviously at the beginning of the year I wasn't helping at all."
Perhaps it is best to leave the personal stats to Dickey, who is 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA in 14 outings. Since May 15, 2011, Dickey's 2.42 ERA ranks third in baseball, trailing that of reigning Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw by four-hundredths of a run.
Over his last six starts, Dickey is 6-0 with a 0.18 ERA in 48 2/3 innings. He has given up 21 hits, struck out 63 batters and allowed five walks. His 42 2/3 consecutive innings without an earned run are the most by a Mets pitcher since Gooden in 1985.
"It's frustrating when you go against a force like that," Orioles outfielder Chris Davis said. "You are not going to have a lot of success."
Even Dickey's own manager sounded more like a fan while gushing about what his knuckleballer has done.
"He's the guy we need out there when times are tough for us," Collins said. "He's getting us chances to win."