ATLANTA – Fresh off becoming one of the most unlikely 20-game winners in MLB history, R.A. Dickey celebrated in subdued style.
In Atlanta with the Mets, who were playing a three-game series against the Braves last weekend, Dickey spent much needed down time with his wife, Anne, and their four kids, who drove from their hometown of Nashville, Tenn. He didn’t pitch in the series, so he relaxed with his family and focused his energy toward his children.
He said they aren’t particularly impressed with his remarkable feat.
They just wanted time with their dad.
“We could all kind of celebrate in their own way, which is to say I gave them all a bath and put them to bed,” Dickey said this weekend at Turner Field. “The timing of it was perfect. It allowed me to get in and (Anne) drove in and I didn’t necessarily have the pressure of having to pitch here. I could just really enjoy the moment with them.
“I’ve said it before, they like that their dad plays baseball, but 20 wins or no wins, they still love each other.”
Baseball’s infatuation with Dickey grows stronger with each victory. Once a pitching hobo, he bounced around between 11 different minor- and major-league teams before finally being rescued by New York in 2010.
He was 35 years old.
Striving for consistency with a newfound weapon called a knuckleball, Dickey began piecing together wins and his career. He won 11 games in 2010, eight last year. Wins came even more rapidly this season, piling up at remarkable speed.
Dickey was 7-1 by the end of May, 12-1 a month later.
His pace lessened, but on Sept. 27, he became the Mets’ first 20-game winner since Frank Viola in 1990 and the first knuckleballer to reach the milestone since Houston’s Joe Niekro in 1980.
In a year with no clear-cut favorite for the Cy Young Award, Dickey is in a group that includes Washington’s Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA), Braves closer Craig Kimbrel (42 saves, 1.02 ERA, 113 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings) and Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78).
“I haven’t thought that one time,” when asked whether his next start – he’s scheduled to start Tuesday at Miami – would be the deciding factor in the Cy Young vote.
“That’s an honest answer. I haven’t thought that once. Am I pitching for the Cy Young? I do think (about it when) I am pitching for my 20th win or my 19th win. Or 21st win, whatever it is. I do think that. I don’t think of it in the scope, of will it be enough to get you a Cy Young. I don’t think about that.”
His numbers certainly prove his case.
Dickey is 20-6 and is second in the NL with a 2.69 ERA. He leads the league with 222 strikeouts and three shutouts, and his 1.05 WHIP is behind only Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw and San Francisco’s Matt Cain. NL hitters have been confused by Dickey’s array of knuckleballs, including one he throws more than 80 mph, about 15-20 mph faster than other knuckleball pitchers have been able to throw the frustrating pitch.
“About three or four pitches he threw broke back over the plate for strikes, almost like they had a curveball movement, but it was a knuckleball,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told MLB Network Radio. “He still throws his fastball. You look at his number of strikeouts. This guy is as good as anybody in the league. He definitely needs to be in the running for Cy Young.”
Like his signature pitch, Dickey’s year has been all over the place.
He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in January, doing so to raise money and awareness for sex trafficking in Mumbai, India. His bio – “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball” – was released last spring and included passages about him being sexually abused when he was a boy.
He threw knuckleballs to David Letterman and baffled AL hitters for an inning in the All-Star game in July.
Last week, he won his 20th game. He entered this season with 41 career wins in nine major-league seasons.
“Life doesn’t always agree with your vision for it. Maybe never. Or maybe rarely,” said Dickey, who will turn 38 on Oct. 29. “In this particular year, it has superseded any expectation that I had. I certainly have a big imagination and I dream big, but I couldn’t even dream this narrative up. It’s really kind of supernatural for me and I’m just trying to be in the moment with it and really enjoy it because I’ve also been on the other side of the coin. I got picked up off the trash heap, the scrapheap. And so, that gives me a very unique perspective. Although I’m trying to hold it as lightly as possible, I certainly am aware as how fantastic it has been.”