- Last Updated: 3:34 AM, June 20, 2012
- Posted: 1:01 AM, June 20, 2012
In 1973, Reggie Jackson said of Tom Seaver, “Blind people come to the park just to listen to him pitch.”
In 1985, Pete Rose said of Dwight Gooden, “What did he throw me? If I’d have seen ’em, I’d have a better way of telling you about ’em.”
In 1978, Carl Yastrzemski said of Ron Guidry, “The worst part is, after he’s done striking out 10 of your guys, he goes and leaps tall buildings in a single bound.”
In 1934, after flailing at three Carl Hubbell strikes in the All-Star Game, Lou Gehrig shook his head, walked past Jimmie Foxx in the on-deck circle, and said, “You might as well cut. It won’t get any higher.” Foxx was puzzled for a moment. Then he struck out helplessly, too. And walked back to the dugout silently.
In 2012, you can see the way batters mutter on their way back to the dugout, and that’s where R.A. Dickey takes his ethereal place alongside the other men who have taken pitching in New York City and lifted it, as Seaver himself described it the other day, to “a physical art form.” As a baseball city, we have seen some of the position’s finest craftsmen at work, seen them reduce proud professional hitters to babbling fools on their way to the dugout.
Dickey? Put it this way: They used to say that Tom Glavine was the master of the “comfortable” 0-for-4. You’d take your four trips to the plate, strike out looking once on a change-up on the black, ground out lazily twice, maybe serve an easy F-8 out to the center fielder, and you’d never once feel overmatched.
Dickey? You watch hitters talking to themselves, you know what they’re saying: Next time. Next time.
And the next time, he gets them again.
All month, it has been like that. Back-to-back one-hitters. Three complete-game shutouts. Forty-three innings without an unearned run (and if not for an error and two passed balls last week in Tampa, we could already be on an Orel Hershiser watch). Seventeen hits, 54 strikeouts, and four walks in that time. Nine straight wins.
He is a knuckleballer, and knuckleballers, by definition, are supposed to be hit-and-miss. Hell, as good a story as Dickey was before this season, he was absolutely hit-and-miss, as prone to giving up an ill-timed longball as baffling a hitter with wizardry because, well, that’s what knucklers do.
That’s what they are.
We wouldn’t be nearly as amazed by this if he were a classical ace in the classical sense. Seaver, a vintage fireballer, probably had his best season as a Met in 1971, a year he pitched to a 1.76 ERA. That year he enjoyed a 13-game stretch in which he allowed 12 earned runs, threw 10 complete games (including a 10-inning, 1-0 loss) and had six games of double-digit strikeouts.
The last 25 games of Gooden’s storied 1985 season he went 18-1 with an ERA of 1.39. The first 22 games of Guidry’s ’78 season he started 15-1 with a 2.03 ERA and four shutouts, and struck out 18 Angels one night. In 1956, Don Newcombe went 13-1 in July and August and threw back-to-back-to-back shutouts at the Cubs, Braves and Pirates.
Those were terrific pitchers at the top of their games, known for their high heat and their dominance. And yet Dickey’s numbers certainly deserve a spot in the same paragraph. Probably more relevant is to compare Dickey’s stretch to the June and July enjoyed by Whitey Ford — known more for his pitching than his throwing — in 1961 (13-0 in June and July). And Hubbell — who, like Dickey, relied on an unusual pitch for the times (a devastating screwball) — had a 13-game stretch in 1933 when he allowed nine earned runs, had four straight shutouts, made three relief appearances ... and won one game 1-0. In 18 innings.
Where does Dickey’s run belong? In the conversation, at least. Although all of these guys — and you can add Christy Mathewson, who had no fewer than a half-dozen stretches like this in his prime between 1905 and 1911 — had the kind of stuff — or reputation — that made their hot streaks understandable, if not predictable.
Dickey’s? Like everything else about the man, it came mostly from out of nowhere. And isn’t that half the fun?