BY JOE RINI
Judging by the success of pitcher R.A. Dickey in 2012, the New York Mets may insist that all of their pitchers take up mountain climbing in the off-season. Less than six months after the 37-year- old right hander risked his career by climbing the 19,336 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds and awareness for Bombay Teen Challenge, a non-profit organization that combats sex trafficking, he is pitching his way into the finest season by a Mets pitcher since the days of the Ronald Reagan presidency and parachute pants.
It’s been a season of stunning success for the major league’s only knuckleball hurler. After winning eight games all of last season, Dickey has won nine decisions in a row to lead the National League with 11 wins against only one loss. He’s also tops in strikeouts with 103 and earned run average at 2.00.
Johan Santana may have pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history this month, but R.A. Dickey became the first pitcher since Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1988 to throw consecutive one- hitters, as his dancing knuckleball baffled the Tampa Bay Rays on June 13 and the Baltimore Orioles on June 18 into a combined two hits and 25 strikeouts.
As Dickey stated after the Orioles game, “I’m riding a pretty good wave right now.”
In his outing against Tampa Bay, Dickey reached 32 2/3 scoreless innings to break the team record set by Jerry Koosman in 1973 before allowing an unearned run. His current stretch of 42 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run is second in team history to Dwight Gooden’s stretch of 49 innings in 1985.
Gooden’s Cy Young award winning season of 1985 with its 24-4 record, 1.53 earned run average and 268 strikeouts, David Cone’s breakout 20-3 season in 1988, and Tom Seaver’s three Cy Young
seasons of 1969, 1973, and 1975 as well as his 20 win 1971 season with its 1.76 earned run average are among the seasons at the top of the mountain of best seasons by a Mets pitcher that Dickey seeks to reach.
At this point, Dickey is a top candidate to join Seaver and Gooden as the only two Mets pitchers to start the All-Star game for the National League this July.
Amazingly, before being called up by the Mets from the minor leagues 41 games into the 2010 season, Dickey had been a journeyman pitcher with 22 career wins in seven seasons in the American League. Dickey calls to mind other famous knuckleballers like Wilbur Wood, Phil and Joe Niekro, Charlie Hough, and Tim Wakefield, who thrived in their late 30s and in some cases, even well into their 40s.
Given his recent success, two things can be certain: the Mets will hope that Dickey has similar success and secondly, he won’t be the only pitcher throwing knuckleballs for much longer.
In contrast to the heights reached by R.A. Dickey, teammate Jason Bay’s three year career with the Mets pitfalled again when he suffered a concussion after slamming into the leftfield wall while trying to nab a drive off the bat of Jay Bruce in Friday’s 7-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, one week after coming off the disabled list.
The outcome of the game was secondary as manager Terry Collins and Bay’s teammates spoke in hushed tones about the serious injury sustained by Bay, a player described by Collins as, “One of the finest people I’ve ever had on my team.” Bay, who suffered a season ending concussion in 2010, was placed on the seven day disabled list but his prognosis is uncertain at the moment.
The Mets enter play on Wednesday in second place at 37-32, three games behind the Washington Nationals.
On a lighter note, Citi Field hosted a post game concert by REO Speedwagon on Friday June 15. Coincidentally, a couple of other stars from the 1970s, Jerry Koosman and Cleon Jones were in attendance representing the Mets Alumni Association as part of Citibank’s 7th Annual Global Community Day…if only baseball players’ careers lasted as long as rock musicians.