Monday, June 18, 2012 Updated: June 20, 2:10 AM ET
Buck, knuck and a little bit of luck
By Adam Rubin ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey earned the No. 4 starter's role out of spring training in 2006 for Buck Showalter's Texas Rangers.
Really, he earned the role because of Showalter.
Yet Dickey's first start of that season became his last for the Rangers. Dickey, by then a full-time knuckleballer at Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser's urging, allowed six homers in 3 1/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers. He spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Oklahoma.
He then departed as a minor league free agent.
R.A. Dickey had to tip his, um, towel, to Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
Six years later, on Monday night, Showalter watched Dickey perform live from a dugout for the first time since that outing. All Dickey did was become the first National League pitcher in 68 years to toss a second straight one-hit complete game. Dickey also claimed the league lead in wins (11), ERA (2.00) and strikeouts (103).
"It was fairly poetic, I thought," Dickey said after the Mets beat Showalter's Baltimore Orioles 5-0 at Citi Field. "The last game he saw me pitch live, I gave up six home runs and tied a modern-day major league record. Only God could script a narrative like this. It's really incredible."
Showalter, salty after Baltimore's loss, originally griped about plate umpire Eric Cooper's strike zone in Dickey's career-high 13-strikeout performance and batted away a question about his relationship with Dickey.
"It's a competitive situation," Showalter said. "I'm about what's going on with the Baltimore Orioles. What's going on with R.A., that's great for the Mets tonight. But it's more about what's going on with Baltimore."
Still, Showalter eventually softened his stance and reflected about Dickey's conversion from on-the-ropes conventional pitcher in Texas to potential NL All-Star Game starter.
"Once you forge a relationship like that and you go through those wars with somebody and make those tough life decisions, those things stick with you whether you're talking to him every day or not," Showalter said.
"He didn't have an ego. He just wanted to be in a position where you could contribute to a team. He's what I call an 'eye-roller.' Every time you fight for him as the 12th pitcher on your staff, all the 'metrics' -- whatever they call all the stat guys -- would roll their eyes. 'He's fighting for Dickey again.'
"Those guys [such as Dickey] usually always repay the confidence you have in them. Everything about him was big league, except for his stuff at that time as a conventional pitcher. Not that he didn't have some good outings."
Said Dickey about Showalter: "I would be remiss if I didn't say thank you to him. He's the one that gave me the opportunity to cultivate that pitch at the foundational levels down in the minor leagues with the Texas Rangers. He believed I could do it. Now, it took a while for me to get it. He gave me the ...
"I'm trying to think of the right word.
"He gave me the canvas to be able to operate on. He was the guy; he and Orel kind of pushed me in that direction. I'm thankful they did."
Arguably, Dickey has reinvented not only himself but also the knuckleball. He seemingly has pinpoint control of where it flutters in the strike zone, unlike his knuckleball predecessors. That's an overly dramatic assertion, according to Dickey. The statistics, calculated by the Elias Sports Bureau, are incredible nonetheless:
Dickey became the first major leaguer since Toronto's Dave Stieb in 1988 with consecutive one-hitters and the first in the NL since Jim Tobin with the Boston Braves in 1944.
He has won nine straight decisions, the longest streak by a Met since Johan Santana won 10 straight spanning 2008 and '09.
Already the owner of the franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings at 32 2/3, Dickey has held opponents without an earned run for 42 2/3 innings. The franchise record is 49 innings by Dwight Gooden in 1985.
Dickey also is the fastest pitcher in franchise history to 10 games over .500, requiring 68 Mets games. That topped Tom Seaver, who moved to 13-3 in Game No. 77 of the 1969 season.
Reflecting on his 2006 knuckleball versus today, Dickey said: "It was a different thing altogether. I was throwing it much slower. I was trying to be Tim Wakefield or Charlie Hough. I was really implementing my own personality with the pitch. And, as I've grown as a pitcher, I've done that. I know I have something to offer that's unique, and I try to build off that.
"If you break it down, the things that make a good knuckleball a good knuckleball are the things I try to do every game. I have a grip where my fingernails are in the baseball. I try to repeat a mechanic. And I try to take spin off. Now the thing I feel like I can do with it is I can change speeds and I can change elevations now. And that's taken a long time to learn how to do that."