Dickey's 20th reintroduced meaning to Citi Field
NEW YORK -- The objective -- the hope -- was for the Mets to play meaningful and dramatic games in September. That's what Fred Wilpon, the old Dodgers fan who knew from past Septembers, had called for but hardly promised way back when Art Howe was his manager and R.A. Dickey still was a conventional pitcher. Make September memorable for the masses, sweaty if it must be and if at all possible, successful. Give the folks reason to fill the seats.
What Wilpon had in mind then was something different from what his team provided Thursday afternoon in its final fling in Flushing this year. The owner had hoped for team success. He had hoped for the gunlap drama he recalled from 1951, '69 or '78. He hoped his team would assert itself as the Mets twice had done years before he and Nelson Doubleday purchased the franchise in 1980, and as it seldom has since. It never came to be in the 51st year of the franchise. Unoccupied seats in the Big Citi told the story.
That story has an epilogue now, however, just as Dickey's book, "Wherever I Wind Up" will have one after the knuckleball pitcher completes the 1,500-word addendum that will update the paperback edition. The epilogue happened Thursday, with Citi Field more than half full. It wasn't meaningful in every way, but glee, tension and finally drama filled the seats that weren't sold. The masses carried sweet memories through the exits. They had experienced "meaningful." They liked it.
Satisfaction is where you find it. The Citi folk found it in Dickey's 20th victory. They beat their chests, because he had beaten the Pirates -- hardly a monumental achievement these days, but significant because "the pitch nobody trusts" had produced 19 victories previously in a surreal summer and no Mets pitcher had won 20 games in the previous 21 years. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and the ballpark louder.
So they chanted "R.A. Dic-key" with the cadence Yankees fans use for "De-rek Je-ter." The people who created a misplaced K Korner hung 13 of Dwight Gooden's favorite consonant -- "DIC-KKKKKKKKKKKKKEY. And they wore Dickey's Mets 43 as if it were Seaver's Mets 41. And they cheered his at-bats, his infield hit and his departures to the dugout. They treated the 81st home game with a sense of anticipation and later appreciation.
"This was for them," Dickey said repeatedly.
He appreciated their support and, more than that, their trust. The best knuckleball pitchers prompt insecurity. And now with his famous fingernails clawing for National League Cy Young recognition, Dickey clearly is the game's best knuckleball pitcher. He probably would be even if another big league pitcher were throwing butterflies these days.
His remarkable success this season may prompt others to add a wrinkle to their stuff.
Twenty victories with a team already assured of a losing record is remarkable. Six losses in 32 starts is stunning.
Dickey required assistance from the Mets' iffy bullpen and from the batting order that could have made him a 22-4 Cy Young candidate even before he walked to the mound Thursday. The bullpen was iffy again. Jon Rauch surrendered a two-run home run in the ninth inning that created the final 6-5 score. And David Wright did what he feels responsible to do and carried the offense. His three-run home run in the Mets' four-run fifth seemingly determined the issue, more than offsetting a solo home run and a run-scoring double by Pirates catcher Rod Barajas.
Barajas, a one-time Mets backstop, had caught Dickey in the pitcher's time with the Rangers and with the Mets in 2010.
"He doesn't like the knuckleball," Dickey said. "He doesn't like catching it. Doesn't seem to mind hitting it, though."
Quite gassed after achieving 23 outs, Dickey was comfortable, even pleased, leaving mound in the eighth. He had thrown enough pitches -- 128, 10 more than in any other start this season -- to introduce doubt into the likelihood of his making another start. How much is there to be gained? The difference between 20 and 21 is minimal compared with the difference between 19 and 20.
Making another start would be like dancing at the top of Kilimanjaro. He didn't do that in January. Why get all Mark Gastineau-Terrell Owens about 20 wins?
"I'm not good at celebrating things," Dickey said.
"But it feels really good," the Mets renaissance man added. "Really satisfying. I don't know if I ever imagined how it would be. But I'm real happy with the way it is ... I feel it in my face."
Dickey expected he would feel it all over when he arrived in Atlanta where his family awaited him, better when the fatigue subsided and better still after he responded to some of some of the dozens of text messages that clogged his cell.
"Congratulations, 20," fellow knuckleballer Charlie Hough said in his text. "But you've got one more."
Maybe. Maybe not.
Dickey was particularly happy for Hough, Niekro, Wakefield and the others.
"It's a form of validation for all of us who have thrown the knuckleball," he said.
They'll be delighted if one of their frat brothers wins the Cy Young Award. None of them has.
A different kind of message awaits Dickey, one he'll address come April. It will come from the late Billy Loes, a pitcher with the Dodgers in the '50s. Loes famously cautioned his pitching brethren, "Never win 20, because they'll expect you to do it every year."
"I was 8-13 last year," Dickey said. "Getting to 20-6 wasn't easy."
He doesn't trust the knuckleball all that much, either.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.