Dickey's dancing knuckler baffles Phils

Dickey's dancing knuckler baffles Phils

NEW YORK -- One game before the Mets' 8-0 dismantling of the Phillies, renowned Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield fired eight shutout innings in Philadelphia, prompting Phils utility man Greg Dobbs to marvel: "It's really, really tough when you don't face many of those guys. It's really different."

Now, it has become something more habitual. Substituting their own knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey, for Wakefield, the Mets saw similar results Tuesday at Citi Field: The Phillies flailed as Dickey's knuckler fluttered, giving the Mets renewed confidence in their patchwork rotation.

"I think what the organization did this winter was create depth," manager Jerry Manuel said. "Now you see that that's coming into play. And it's coming into play with quality starts against very good teams."

And so eight days after Mike Pelfrey snapped a 15-game streak in which no Mets starter recorded a victory, Dickey notched the rotation's third consecutive win. He did it in rather unorthodox fashion, fluttering two different types of knuckleballs against arguably the National League's best offense. But he did it nonetheless.

"I hate to give you the 'SportsCenter' answer, but it's good to beat a team in your division," Dickey said. "Especially ones that are as good as the Phillies."

There was little historical precedent to this, with two knuckleballers facing the same team in consecutive games. The Phillies hadn't faced two successive knuckleballers in 27 years, so there was no knowing how they might react.

In short, Philadelphia reacted with swings and misses, allowing Dickey to rack up a career-high seven strikeouts in six innings. Aided by Carlos Ruiz's 1-2-3 double play (on a sinker, not a knuckler) with the bases loaded and no outs in the second, Dickey kept the Phillies off the scoreboard despite allowing multiple baserunners in three separate innings.

On his way to the ballpark Tuesday, Dickey spoke on the phone with Wakefield, who gave him tips on the various weaknesses of the Phillies. But Wakefield's most poignant advice consisted of merely three words.

"Throw a knuckleball," Dickey said. "There's not much to it other than that."

Three simple words, prompting the Phillies to utter their share of four-letter words.

"I'm not going to say anything to take away from the guy who pitched the shutout or the guy that beat us," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He got us out. We couldn't get to him, and we had all of the opportunities in the world."

Perhaps most impressive, Dickey did so in increasing amounts of pain. Leading off the second, Ryan Howard drilled a line drive directly into Dickey's non-pitching elbow, injuring him so badly that for several minutes he could not feel any sensation in his fingers.

After a lengthy mound conference, the Mets allowed Dickey to stay in the game, monitoring him all the while. But the pain eventually forced him to leave after six innings.

"When he got to the mound, I couldn't feel my hand," Dickey said. "That was a little bit scary. But slowly, about the second batter I faced, I started being able to get some sensation back in my fingers."

With that sensation came pain, forcing Dickey to the clubhouse. Yet by the time he departed, the Mets were well on their way to victory.

Scoring single runs in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings off Phillies starter Jamie Moyer, the Mets finally received a cyclical effort from their offense. Jose Reyes finished 3-for-5, stealing two bases and tripling home a run in the eighth. Jeff Francoeur busted out of an 0-for-12 funk with two hits and two RBIs. Jason Bay drove in two runs and stole a base.

The result was an eight-run victory that put the Mets squarely at .500 for the first time in 11 days. Two-thirds of the way through their toughest homestand of the season, the Mets have managed to thrive against the Yankees and Phillies.

"We've been able to get off to a 3-1 start against the two teams that went to the World Series last year," Francoeur said.

They have done it with contributions from Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi and Raul Valdes, who pitched three scoreless innings to record the save and even doubled home a run at the plate.

For a team that appeared lost and bewildered just one week ago, the Mets are now the ones doing the bewildering. It's been a comfort for them to win in this style.

Or as catcher Rod Barajas put it, "It's nice to go out there every now and then and have a laugher."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.