MIAMI -- The most successful, unique and perplexing season of R.A. Dickey's career did not come to a close without one final twist.
Dickey revealed after Tuesday's 4-3, 11-inning loss to the Marlins that he has been pitching since April with a torn right abdominal muscle, which flared up Tuesday and will require surgery. Despite that issue, the knuckleballer submitted by far the best season of his career, capping his Cy Young resume with a six-inning, three-run, eight-strikeout performance at Marlins Ballpark.
"I was on my knees about it many times, hoping that it wasn't going to get more significant than it was," Dickey said. "My wife and I prayed quite frequently together about that because I was in the middle of a good season."
That season, one of the best in franchise history, is now complete with a 20-6 record, a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts. But it teetered in constant danger of derailment, as Dickey continued to pitch through injury.
Relying on the team's medical staff to dull his stomach pain, which was rarely severe, Dickey took the mound every fifth game; at one point this summer, he even considered pitching every fourth. It was not an entirely unusual situation for the knuckleballer, who played the final five months of last season with a torn plantar fascia, later revealing in his autobiography that he received a painkilling injection before every start.
Still, all of his accomplishments take on a different light in the context of his injury revelation. Chief among those are Dickey's 233 2/3 innings, fifth-most by any Met in the last quarter-century.
"He was absolutely brilliant all season long," manager Terry Collins said. "He never let anything get in the way. He knew he had to pitch. He knew the situation. And as he has all year long, he never made an excuse. He just went out there and did the best he could."
Dickey will undergo surgery in Philadelphia on Oct. 18, and expects to have no trouble readying himself for the start of Spring Training. But the injury does underscore the fact that, at 37 years old, he is not the invulnerable rubber-armed pitcher of knuckleball lore; Dickey is as susceptible to the same aches and pains as anyone else.
"Physically, I'm a little bit taxed," he said. "And emotionally, I'm kind of just able to take a deep breath maybe, and start to reflect on what was a pretty good year individually."
That season ended Tuesday in rather anticlimactic fashion, with Dickey contributing a quality start but hardly a dominant one; he was in line for the loss until the Mets saved him with a three-run rally off Heath Bell in the eighth. The two teams then traded zeros until the 11th, when Jose Reyes greeted Collin McHugh with a triple and Donovan Solano plated him with a walk-off single.
"It's a good ending to the season, personally for me and the team," said Marlins starter Jacob Turner, who outpitched Dickey with 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball. "Anytime you're facing R.A. Dickey, it's obviously going to be a tough game."
This one, however, was toughest for the knuckleballer.
Dickey felt his abdomen tear further in the second inning, which began with a leadoff single and ended on a double play. Dickey fired a 1-2-3 third, but gave up solo homers to Gorkys Hernandez and Rob Brantly in the fourth and fifth innings, then three consecutive singles in the sixth. Those runs left his Cy Young candidacy in doubt -- despite Dickey's status as frontrunner, top challenger Clayton Kershaw still has one start remaining.
(On a side note, fans can show their support for Dickey's Cy Young bid by tweeting #RA4CY and visiting the Mets' fan forum to voice their opinions.)
Dickey's postgame revelation also stole the narrative away from Adam Greenberg, the former Cubs farmhand who was struck in the head by a pitch in his only big league at-bat in 2005. Playing on a one-day contract with the Marlins, Greenberg whiffed on three straight knuckleballs in his encore at-bat.
He may not have known of Dickey's ailment -- but then again, precious few people did. Dickey said he and general manager Sandy Alderson agreed to keep quiet about it until after the season, knowing that Dickey never came particularly close to landing on the disabled list.
"I felt like we were just going to be able to keep trucking through," the knuckleballer said. "I guess the timing is fortuitous in that the significant pain that I'm feeling now, I hadn't felt before. But tonight, it was hard to catch my breath sometimes. It's obvious it needs to be taken care of."