Friday, June 11, 2010
Updated: June 12, 1:05 PM ET
Catchers beware: Dickey's a tricky one
By Adam Rubin
BALTIMORE -- Rod Barajas watched knuckleballer R.A. Dickey tossing a baseball with bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello before Friday's series opener against the Baltimore Orioles. He had visions of what the Mets catcher called "the Josh Bard experience."
Barajas had been the opposing catcher on April 4, 2006, in Arlington, Texas, when Red Sox catcher Bard was charged with three passed balls while trying to catch Tim Wakefield, one of Dickey's knuckleball mentors.
Now with the Mets, Barajas became concerned about his own fate when Racaniello, who normally handles Dickey fine, dropped six or seven throws while playing catch.
"All he kept doing was running back to the backstop, running back to the backstop," Barajas said about Bard's adventurous assignment in Texas four years ago, which ultimately prompted Boston to bring back specialist Doug Mirabelli. "And I had that picture in my mind -- this is the way it's going to be for me today."
In the end, Barajas was charged with two passed balls while the Baltimore Orioles scored a run on what was ruled a wild pitch. But on a night Barajas labeled "the hardest thing I've ever had to do behind the plate," the Orioles had more trouble hitting Dickey than Barajas had catching him.
Finally, the Mets found a way to remedy their woeful showing away from Citi Field: visit the team with the worst record in the majors.
Dickey struck out a career-high eight batters and took a scoreless effort into the seventh inning, David Wright had three hits and two RBIs and designated hitter Chris Carter belted his first major league homer -- a three-run shot -- as the Mets opened a three-stop tour of American League ballparks with a 5-1 win against the woeful Orioles on Friday night at Camden Yards.
Dickey, who allowed one run in seven innings before deferring to left-hander Pedro Feliciano, became the first pitcher to open his Mets career at 4-0 since Kenny Rogers won his first five decisions in 1999, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The knuckleballer had runners on second base with no one out in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and wriggled free each time.
The knuckleball was so effective, Dickey threw only five fastballs among his 109 pitches.
"That's a ratio that's pretty remarkable," Dickey said.
The Mets, who have a major league-best 24 home wins, improved to 9-18 away from Citi Field. They now occupy sole possession of second place in the National League East thanks to the Boston Red Sox shellacking of the Philadelphia Phillies.
"I think it will help us offensively to get an extra bat in the lineup," manager Jerry Manuel said about the impact of having a designated hitter for nine straight games. "I think our issue for the most part has been scoring runs."
Manuel's decision to flip left-hander Jon Niese and Dickey's starts worked splendidly. Niese, pitching on standard rest, tossed a one-hit shutout of the San Diego Padres on Thursday at Citi Field.
Manuel had reasoned that starting a knuckleballer in Game 1 of a series can disrupt the opponents' swings for the rest of the weekend.
"I don't know," Dickey said, commenting on the logic. "I think, if anything, it will screw them up. I surely don't think it will help them for the next two days. If that's the hypothesis, now we have a series to see if it works -- to prove it out. I do remember starting the Phillies series, and I do remember starting the Marlins series, and we swept both of those. So there might be some evidence to support it. We'll have to see."
As for Barajas, he came away feeling good with the win -- even if his personal performance did not look favorable in the box score.
"The way it turned out, I'm ecstatic," Barajas said. "I absolutely would have loved if that run wouldn't have scored, but I think it could have been worse. The fact that he did as well as he did and we won the game, I'm OK with it.
"He throws a hard knuckleball -- something that you don't see very often. It limits the time that the ball can move because of how hard he throws it. But today it didn't matter. The velocity was there, but the ball was moving more than I'd ever seen. I knew going into it that I was going to have a long night. But I also knew that if he was throwing it over the plate that they were going to have a long night."
Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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