An ext.R.A.ordinary Story

A little over a month ago, May 25th to be exact, the Mets rotation was in disarray.  Sporting two starters on the DL and another banished to the bullpen to be lost forever (or at least we hope), the starting 5 needed saving.  On that day R.A. Dickey, who looks like he just jumped off an old roll of Brawny paper towels, would make his second start for the Mets.   He stepped into an unenviable spot and was unlikely to be the savior the Mets so badly needed.  Or so we thought.

Fans were relying on him to keep the subway series momentum going and help the team gain ground on their division rivals.  He responded with 6 strong innings, during which he held the Phillies (2nd in the NL in runs/game at the time) scoreless.  Who would have imagined (back on May 25th) that Dickey was just getting started.  His story, demeanor, and performance have thrust him onto a seemingly unsaid mission to preserve the hopes of Mets fans and, in the process, be the very savior this staff was so desperately seeking.

Robert Alan Dickey was selected in the first round (18th overall) of the 1996 draft by the Texas Rangers.  Back then he was more of a gunslinger type, throwing upwards of 92/93 MPH.  He spent most of the next 8 yrs bouncing between AAA and the majors and from 2001-2004 he was unimpressive at best.  Through 233 Major League innings Dickey sported a 5.40 ERA, not exactly what Texas scouts were expecting from their former 1st round pick.  To make matters worse, fellow pitchers  Jake Westbrook and Gil Meche (who went 21st and 22nd respectively in R.A.’s draft class) were enjoying some early success and showing signs of development as Dickey faltered.

When an injury to the rhomboid muscle caused his velocity to dip into the mid-80s, R.A. was approached by former Texas pitching coach Orel Hershiser, who suggested he could prolong his career if he would commit to the knuckleball.  It was at this point (2005) that Dickey committed to reinventing himself.  He told Adam Rubin of ESPN New York (click here to read full article)

My velocity had gone from about 91, 92 down to 86, 87 mph. But I felt great, I just didn’t have any more bullets — at least hollow-point bullets. I still have some bullets, but not the armor-piercing ones. So I had to come up with something if I wanted to keep chasing a dream. That was kind of the beginning.”

Steve Kelley of Seattle times (click here to read full article):

To take a new path in order to stay in the big leagues, I’ve had to let go of everything that got me there, I had to commit. To do that, to become somebody new, to really leave who you were behind, it’s really hard. Very difficult.”

It has taken 5 years but that commitment has begun to payoff for Dickey and the team who decided to give him a shot this past winter, our New York Mets.  After being cut loose by the Twins, Mariners, and Rangers (since 2006) Dickey signed a minor league contract with the Mets in December of 2009.  Heading into this season R.A. had a 14-22 record and 6.30 ERA in 48 career starts but did show some promise working out of the bullpen while with the Mariners in 2008, posting a 2.00 ERA in that role (36 IP).

This year has been another story, out of a different book, off a different shelf, from a library on another planet.  Dickey’s record stands at 6-0 and he leads all starters with a 2.33 ERA in 7 starts.  With 6 straight wins he even became the first Mets pitcher in franchise history to win his first 6 decisions.  Prior to this year R.A. had a career BB/9 ratio of 3.5, but he has managed to only allow 14 walks over 46 1/3 innings (2.7 BB/9) this year.  At this point his 2010 stats are hard to ignore and the question now becomes, after 13 seasons of mediocrity and the not so tender age of 35, how has the knuckle baller turned in 7 straight eye catching starts?  According to Dickey its about being ready:

I think a lot of it has to do with opportunity for sure. I felt like I’ve had opportunities in the past and not been ready for them. I feel like I’m ready now. I have been throwing the pitch a long enough time where I know how to make adjustments during course of the game and I believe in it enough to where I can really commit to it…I think that may be the difference for me right now”

At this point Dickey’s 2010 sampling is something that just needs to be enjoyed and respected.  Jerry Manuel has seemingly scoffed at the idea of replacing R.A. with John Maine (thank heavens) but the team still continues to entertain the idea of adding another veteran starter to the staff.  Given how injuries have fallen upon this team’s staff over the past few years I think they are making the right move and it is not one that should be viewed as a slight against Dickey.  Call it precautionary measures, call it insurance, call it due diligence, or maybe even call it the search for the next R.A. Dickey.  However you want to paint the picture one fact is certain, R.A. Dickey has done right by the Mets and this ball club is doing right by him as both continue to enjoy this ext.R.A.ordinary story.

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