LOS ANGELES - C'mon Tony La Russa, give R.A. Dickey the ball.
Give him, at 37, the reward that comes from a career spent well, one made of fearlessness and creativity and last chances.
Give Dickey the All-Star Game start in Kansas City because in his 16th professional season, he's the best pitcher in baseball, and because he deserves it, and so do the rest of us.
And you deserve it, too, Tony. Guys, anyway, like you, who survived 12 pro seasons as a player and touched the big leagues but maybe didn't become exactly what you'd hoped.
Dickey was going to be that guy, too, of course. And then he wouldn't give up, and he found this eccentric pitch, and didn't just survive, but surfed that thing all the way to the beach. You know, if there was a beach in Kansas City. And on Friday night in Los Angeles, where there is a beach, he threw eight more shutout innings, struck out 10 more hitters and won his 12th game against one stinkin' loss.
That's not just an All-Star. That's a man standing out in front of the All-Stars, throwing the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning, representing not just the National League, but what is left of what used to be our national game.
You know the fight, Tony. You know the story. It's on the bookshelves. It's also out on the mound every five days, spitting that pitch from between his fingernails like a watermelon seed. And it's the man behind it, staring at it like everyone else, maybe a little surer that it's going to be a strike, or look like one for long enough. And maybe not.
But the last one was, so he has no choice but to believe the next one will, and that's the way it's gone for each of 1,697 of them in his 16th professional season, the best one yet.
He's come to trust the knuckleball, and surely it him. So much so that when late Friday night, not long after he'd bewitched a largely helpless Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, the topic of the All-Star Game arose, the pitch came alive.
"I mean, just getting to the All-Star Game would be fantastic," Dickey said. "It would lend real legitimacy to the knuckleball. A lot of people think this knuckleball is a gimmick. I'd like to prove it's much more than that. Nobody likes to be demeaned. There are camps out there that would demean the pitch as a gimmick or a sideshow."
So, there you go, Tony. Please don't hurt the knuckleball's feelings. I hope you saw him – her? against the Dodgers; glorious, unpredictable, even dominant. All but seven or eight times over those 116 pitches he – she? – floated relentlessly away from the bat barrel. Of the 116, minus those handful of fastballs, 81 were strikes.
On this breezy Friday night on a hill overlooking downtown L.A., this is where R.A. Dickey most recently wound up.
Clinging to the far right side of the pitcher's rubber, before a near-full ballpark, off his one truly crummy start since mid-April and against a lineup of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly's beloved "on-base-percentage-type guys," Dickey resumed his magical history tour.
Honestly, it's not as if Mattingly held back his lineup of "masher-type guys." The Dodgers' offense has been among the worst in baseball for going on a month, and has been particularly harmless for a week. From a couple tiers above field level, it was difficult to gauge where the Dodgers stopped and Dickey began, or vice versa, except to know that this was truly Dickey, and that was truly what has become of the Dodgers, so everyone stayed in character.
As Vin Scully so eloquently observed on-air after several innings of watching Dickey, "The Dodgers have been flailing away at R.A. Dickey. That's the best word I can come up with - 'flailing.'"
Seriously, you've rarely seen a lineup of so many tentative swings, soft outs and overmatched at-bats as the Dodgers.
And then Dickey got to town.
For the sixth time in seven starts, he did not allow an earned run. Up the coast, Dickey's central competition for the All-Star start, Matt Cain, was giving up 11 hits and five runs in 6 2/3 innings. Great first half for Cain. But not Dickey great.
Not like this, with the goods and the back story.
Give him the ball, Tony.
"It would give everybody who's ever played the game, who's dealt with adversity, and who finally got here a ray of hope," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
The grinders in the minor leagues, he said. The cup-of-coffee All-Stars. The never-gonna-be-good-enoughs.
"He," Collins said of Dickey, "went and did something extraordinary. And it would give them something to hang onto. Like, 'Hey, it could be done.' You can actually achieve amazing things if you put your mind to it."
Dickey thought about that.
"Amen," he said. "I think if I can offer that with my performance, then that's a real honor. Any time you can be the picture of hope for someone else…"
That was about it, Tony. I'll let you finish the rest.
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