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Mets' Dickey gets 20th win

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- He had craved this moment as much for the fans chanting and cheering his name as for himself.

R.A. Dickey wanted an extra shot at home, an opportunity to give New York Mets fans one more chance to share the last bit of sheer joy their season had to offer after several months of misery.

But the 37-year-old knuckleballer, whose life and career has dipped and darted even more wildly than the pitch that rejuvenated him, had tired. He struggled early in Thursday's home finale at Citi Field, in his quest for the 20th victory he would eventually earn with a 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He watched his teammates -- notably David Wright, whose three-run homer eventually provided the difference -- pick him up.

So he pressed on. He would get fatigued, then hear the "growing surge" of a cheer for him.

He would hear his manager, Terry Collins, tell him after the seventh, when Dickey first suggested he might be done, that there was a ballpark full of people hanging on his every pitch. Collins told him to "use the energy," of the fans, stopping just short of telling the Star Wars fanatic to "use the force."

Dickey had detailed his battles back from child sexual abuse and suicidal thoughts in a bravely revealing memoir this year, but now he was no longer a frightened boy. Nor was he an unsure young man, whose career was off track before he discovered the knuckleball.

Years of work, both on the field and in the sage-like mind that often offers thoughtful reflection, helped him build this breakout season. It helped the fans embrace him now, and pushed him as far as he could go, on the biggest individual day of his career.

"I was not myself mentally," Dickey would admit later, after throwing 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball and tying his career high with 13 strikeouts. "Then I would come out for an at-bat. I'd feel the growing surge ... how could you not be motivated to go out there and give your fans and your teammates and yourself everything you've got?"

Everything Dickey had this year has been enough to give him a chance to win the National League Cy Young award. The win made him the first Mets pitcher since Frank Viola in 1990 to win 20 and one of the few knuckleballers anywhere to do so.

But along with those honors, and his status as the majors' second 20-game winner this season, Dickey helped lift his team and fans out of a second-half malaise that robbed them of the fun provided in a surprising first half.

Even Dickey, always cognizant of focusing on team wins first, acknowledged his connection with the fans Thursday "transcends" the Mets' second-half slide.

"This is as much about you as it is for me," he told them as they cheered him in a post-game interview on the field, after he helped the Mets finish with six wins in their last seven home games.

For everyone else, it was mostly about Dickey on Thursday, as a matchup of teams eliminated from the playoffs focused largely on his quest for the milestone win.

He struggled early, watching former teammate Rod Barajas hurt him with a RBI double in the second and a solo homer in the fourth. He saw Jordy Mercer hit a 60-foot dribbler down the third base line to score a run, as the Pirates took early leads of 2-0 and 3-1.

Acknowledging it had been harder than ever to control his emotions, Dickey (20-6) gave up three runs on seven hits in the first four innings, before eventually saying he "grew into a pretty good knuckleball."

Ike Davis responded with a home run to make it 2-1 in the second and Mike Baxter did his best to do so as well.

But Pirates right fielder Travis Snider stunned the crowd, playing Spider-man as he climbed the wall, propelling himself even further by pushing off with his right hand before fully extending himself to make a snow-cone catch.

As he tumbled to the ground, he held his glove up, the white of the ball still peeking out from the top.

"That's as good a play as you'll ever want to see an oufielder make," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Great timing, feel."

But the Mets pushed across a run against Pirates starter Kevin Correia (11-11) to make it 3-2 in the fourth on Scott Hairston's RBI single. Wright, who had given Mets' fans reason to cheer Wednesday when he became the Mets all-time hit leader, then drilled a three-run homer to right center, where not even Snider could reach it, for a 6-3 lead.

"With the ball on the ground a lot today, thought he might be able to get another on the ground," Hurdle said of Correia. "He got a ball where we really didn't want to get it. And David Wright can do that kind of damage."

Said Wright: "It was the least we could do for a guy who's picked us up a number of times."

Dickey appeared emboldened by the support, having settled down to strike out the side in the fifth and allowing just three base runners in his final 3 2/3 innings.

Despite getting frustrated he had to run instead of rest due to a check-swing dribbler that went for a single in the bottom of the seventh, Dickey recovered in the eighth. He struck out the first two batters, before walking Snider.

Collins came out and when Dickey finally exited having thrown 128 pitches, the fans chanted his name once more.

Dickey lifted his cap, waving it all around. The announced crowd was 31,506 and, unlike most days here in the season's stretch run, the fans' volume did not make the number appear inflated.

"These people deserve to see you come off the mound," Collins said he had told Dickey after the seventh, in helping convince him to return for the eighth.

After Jon Rauch recorded the last out of the eighth, he nearly gave away the goodwill in the ninth, allowing a one-out, two-run homer to Alex Presley to bring the Pirates within 6-5.

But Bobby Parnell retired two batters to earn his fifth save of the season and secure the win.

NOTES: Former Met Keith Hernandez had his famous mustache shaved in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda as fans watched before Thursday's game, as part of a charity event. ... Pirates second baseman Neil Walker missed his third straight game due to a lower back issue. ... Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen left with a bruised left knee in the seventh after making a diving attempt on a ball. He'll be re-evaluated Friday, Hurdle said.
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