After brilliant run, Dickey knuckles under
NEW YORK -- He was done in by one lousy pitch. R.A. Dickey wasn't thrilled with a handful of others and never did find the knuckleball he'd ridden to one of the greatest runs any pitcher has ever had.
"As controllable as the knuckleball has been for me, it's still a very fickle pitch from time to time," Dickey said. "She didn't cooperate tonight on a couple of different occasions."
In the end, one pitch changed everything. He kept waiting for the knuckleball to Nick Swisher to dart or dip or do almost anything as it approached home plate with two Yankees on base in the top of the third inning on Sunday night.
Instead, it stayed right there in the fat part of the plate, right in Swisher's wheelhouse. Swisher slapped it over the wall in right for a three-run home run.
After 33 days of being as close to perfect as a pitcher can be, Dickey finally had a night when nothing came easy. He'd gone five straight starts without allowing an earned run and had tossed back-to-back one-hitters in his two most recent starts.
Sunday was a different story. He allowed five runs in six innings in a game his Mets eventually lost to the Yankees, 6-5, Sunday night in front of 42,364 at Citi Field.
"I didn't have a great knuckleball," Dickey said. "It was just kind of coming out wobbly. I kept searching for it. I didn't give us a great chance to win. Against a lineup like that, you can't give in. There were plenty of opportunities for me to throw a 2-0 fastball. But I might not get it back. These guys have a very good lineup, maybe the best we've seen so far."
He's the first pitcher in Major League history to go five straight starts without allowing an earned run while striking out at least eight, and he'd won six in a row. His streak of not giving up an earned run ended moments before Swisher's home run, at 44 2/3 innings.
There had been a walk and an infield single and another walk before the home run. As he said later, it wasn't exactly the worst beating any pitcher has ever suffered. But on a night when Citi Field was packed and the cross-town rivals were the opponent and CC Sabathia was pitching for the other team, it was one of those special evenings.
"It was fun to be part of an environment like that," Dickey said. "I certainly wish it would have turned out differently. You've got to slow the game down. It can almost speed you up. You've got to find a way to step off the [mound], take a breath and get back to the job at hand. I felt like I was where I needed to be. I just didn't execute a couple of pitches I wish I had back.
"I felt like I was behind 1-0, 2-0 with a lot of guys. I still threw knuckleballs. But you can't really throw the super one. You can't throw the one that can be super natural sometimes because you've got to have a strike. I would back off a couple of times and try to get a strike."
He said his goal was to start another streak, but he also appreciated how special these last few weeks have been. Having toiled so long to get to the Major Leagues and stay, he found himself on center stage, and he appreciated the moment for what it was.
"It was fun to be part of history," he said. "When you can say you were part of the pedigree of people who've come through this game, it's some big names. It makes for an enjoyable ride. My hope was to continue it tonight."
Down the hallway from the Mets clubhouse, the Yankees said facing his knuckleball wasn't their idea of fun.
"He threw a couple of pitches to me that there was no chance I was going to be able to hit 'em," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "I just got lucky enough to grind out some RBIs with one ground ball and one fly ball. I swung and missed some, too."
As Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "I thought R.A. just had one bad inning, really. It shows you as good as R.A.'s been, he is human and guys can put some good wood on some balls he throws. They don't do it very often, but we did it again."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.