Facing former mentor, Dickey at top of his game

Facing former mentor, Dickey at top of his game

Facing former mentor, Dickey at top of his game
NEW YORK -- Buck Showalter has created a monster.

The knuckleball was nearing extinction in 2005, with Boston hurler Tim Wakefield then at the tail end of his career, but Showalter -- then the manager of the Rangers -- thought the pitch suited R.A. Dickey, who at that point was a disappointment on the field but a positive influence in the clubhouse. Showalter thought Dickey could handle the transition, but he never imagined Dickey -- now with the Mets -- would turn into the hurler he is now. Dickey finished a one-hitter against Showalter's Orioles on Monday with the National League lead in wins, ERA and strikeouts; it was his second consecutive one-hitter and the third of his career.

"The stat guys would roll their eyes and say, 'He's fighting for Dickey again,'" said Showalter. "Those guys usually repay the confidence you have in them, but everything about him was big league except his stuff at that time."

What Dickey has done with his knuckleball has far surpassed what Showalter taught him. He has taken leaps forward with the pitch, learning how to control it and change speeds in ways Wakefield never could.

"It's a hard knuckleball," Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones said. "Wakefield's is big and slow, and you can see it. You still swing and miss, but you can see it. This one gets on you. It gets on you quick."

All Jones could do at times Monday was laugh. In his third at-bat of the night against Dickey, a ball started down the middle of the plate and broke out of the strike zone.

He turned behind him to catcher Josh Thole and asked, "What was that?"

Thole shook his head and grinned back at Jones.

"Whatever he figured out, you have to tip your cap to the man," Jones said. "I don't give credit to many pitchers, but you've just got to respect his game that much."

Dickey has been earning plenty of respect this season and is working on a streak of 42 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, the most by a Mets pitcher since Dwight Gooden threw 48 in 1985, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

"As much as any knuckleball moves, I don't know how he can control it and throw it over the plate consistently," Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "It's a knuckleball that he can control and throw it for strikes. ... You look at the catcher, and he can barely catch them."

While Dickey has the most wins of any pitcher in the Major Leagues, he hasn't always been a success story. He once threw a below-average fastball and a curve that was nothing special. For that reason, he's different than a pure knuckleballer like Wakefield, and it's working to his advantage.

"You're not going up there thinking heater, but he still has that fastball," Jones said. "Obviously, it's not high velocity or anything, but when you go up there thinking about knuckleballs, that's pretty hard."