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Thursday, June 14, 2012
Dali, Dickey and the quest for perfection

By Mark Simon

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- St. Petersburg is the home of a museum celebrating renowned artist Salvador Dali.

Dali is most known for some fascinating and highly unusual works with double meanings that required a comprehensive explanation from Sandra, the tour guide on our visit yesterday.

A check of the Internet shows that Dali once was quoted as saying, "Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it."

Matt Cain did achieve perfection in a baseball sense last night, and though R.A. Dickey's record indicates one more blemish and miscue than were featured in Cain’s perfecto, he probably couldn’t have been any better than he was at the Tropicana Dome, a couple miles from the Dali Museum.

I strolled the stands for much of Wednesday's Mets-Rays game and encountered a few people who would agree. They include the food services attendant in the elevator down from the press box who asked, "Does there have to be a run scored for a game to end?" (She admitted she doesn’t watch baseball.) Or the Rays blogger who predicted a dozen strikeouts for Dickey at the end of the second inning, or the New York radio personality who asked, "Who in the National League is better than R.A. Dickey right now?"

We have a specific manner by which we judge perfect games. The scorekeeping system we use is such that it is defined as being a 27-up, 27-down performance. There is no regard for how one gets his outs.

For that matter, there is no regard for how one allows his hits.

In Dickey’s case, he gave up one to B.J. Upton in the first inning on a ball that David Wright (one of baseball’s best barehand-play artists) couldn’t field cleanly. In the ninth inning, Wright made an errant throw on a softly hit groundball that pulled first baseman Ike Davis off the bag.

The Mets are appealing the official scorer’s decision, as baseball’s rules now say they can do. That play isn’t being overturned. The system doesn’t seem meant for it to overrule the scorer’s judgment on what was not even a 50-50 proposition for an out at best.

But for Dickey, is that really relevant?

We use a data provider, Inside Edge, that provides us a list of "hard-hit balls" in each game. Dickey had one -- a fly ball near the warning track in the ninth inning. There were 25 foul balls hit and a Tampa media member recalled only one, by Matt Joyce, that would have qualified as hard hit, if we kept track of those (which we don’t).

Dickey wowed his catcher, Mike Nickeas, who said he was running out of ways to describe how difficult it is to catch Dickey’s signature knuckler. He wowed his manager, and opposing manager Joe Maddon, who referred to Dickey as "exceptional."

Much of Dickey’s postgame press gathering was spent discussing the run of success that has made him one of baseball’s top pitchers at the moment. At one point, trying to explain the pitch, he drew laughs by saying, "I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of knuckleball Sherpa here."

Dickey talked about the most important thing for him is consistency -- being able to duplicate the sort of starts that have gone best for him. There is always something at which he thinks he can do better.

One of the last questions, Dickey was asked if there was anything he could have done better in this game. He pondered a few seconds, stalled a bit and eventually got around to answering: "No. It was a game where I didn’t have any regrets."

So if Dickey wants to think of his game is as perfect as Cain’s that’s perfectly fine with us.

Though Dali might disagree.