Perhaps reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander of the Tigers, or Yankees workhorse C.C. Sabathia, or the Phillies’ crafty lefty Cole Hamels, recent perfect game hurler Matt Cain of the Giants, or maybe the Nats’ 23-year old phenom Stephen Strasburg.  None of these aces can hold a rosin bag to journeyman right-hander Robert Allen (R.A.) Dickey of the New York Mets!  He’s currently riding one of the greatest pitching streaks of all-time, primarily thanks to his incredible control of a dancing 66-81 MPH knuckleball.

 

R.A. Dickey was the 18th overall pick of the Texas Rangers in 1996 MLB Draft, out of the University of Tennessee.  Within 5 years he made his MLB debut, but for most of the next 10 years he floundered (52-51) with four different teams, the last three years with the Mets.  This season however, the Mets’ knuckleballer is off to an 11-1 start with a 2.00 ERA, and 103Ks and only 21 walks in 99 innings.  Dickey’s 11 wins lead the majors, and he’s tied for the MLB best in ERA and strikeouts.  This week he became the first pitcher since Dave Stieb in 1998 to throw back-to-back one-hitters…..first in NL since Jim Tobin of the Boston Braves in 1944.  (Speaking of Stieb, you might recall that he also lost BOTH of his near back-to-back no-hitters with two out in the ninth).  Dickey has won 9 straight decisions and has not yielded an earned run in 42.2 innings (second best in Mets history to Dwight Gooden’s 49 in 1985).  His seven walks in his last eight starts are unheard of for a knuckleballer.  R.A. Dickey is also the first pitcher ever to allow no earned runs and strike out at least 8 batters in 5 consecutive starts!

 

This kind of pitching dominance is fondly reminiscent of Koufax’s total dismantling of hitters, Fernando’s screwball, Pedro’s overall pitch arsenal and magnificent 1999 season, Maddox’s painting the black, Hershiser’s scoreless innings (59) streak, Gibson’s intimidating inside fastball/slider, and Mo’s bat-shattering cutter.  R.A. Dickey actually credits current Oriole manager Buck Showalter (who he beat last night) with changing him into a knuckleballer while they were both with the Rangers during 2003-06.  At the ripe old baseball age of 37, R.A. Dickey has finally perfected the knuckleball like no other pitcher before him.  Fellow knuckleballer and HOFamer Phil Niekro recently said that, “I had a few streaks, but nothing like he’s going through right now.  I don’t know if any other knuckleballer has ever been on a hot streak like he has been.”  

 

What I especially enjoy about R.A. Dickey is that he is as genuine as they come.  The “Nick Swisher of Pitchers”, if you will.  If he had not become a professional athlete, he wanted to become an English professor.  His autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball” was released earlier this year in March.  The book openly reveals his suffering through sexual abuse as a child, battling suicidal thoughts as an adult, becoming a born-again Christian, and his climbing of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2011 for charity and other personal causes close to him and his wife.  This father of two daughters is also a voracious reader, always keeping a stack of books in his locker and naming his bats after literary swords.  The knuckleballer Dickey is just not your average MLB pitcher!

 

I hope his hard-fought success continues this season and beyond.  Already, it’s the best story going in baseball.  Come the evening of July 10 in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, I also hope that the knuckleballer is on the bump starting for the NL All-Stars.  Interestingly, the red-hot 1st place Yankees, currently on a 10-game winning streak of their own, invade Citi Field this weekend to re-fuel the Subway Series.  Dickey is slated to pitch on Saturday versus Sabathia.  You don’t want to miss that one!

 

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