KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In the end, it happens how it happens and when it happens, and R.A. Dickey, who would know that better than most, was more than grateful for it.
Sometimes these things get whipped up bigger and badder than they have to be, so everybody had kicked around Dickey's place in the All-Star game as though it mattered, when it didn't. Afterward, when he'd pitched a fairly tidy sixth inning for the National League and passed an eight-run lead on to the next guy, Dickey said he'd done what he came to do. And, turned out, that it was more than enough.
"It was great, you know?" he said. "I felt like I was on stage of a Broadway musical. It was well worth the wait."
Maybe he meant the 5½ innings he'd hung around Tuesday night hoping for the ball, when all the speculation insisted he would be the starter.
Maybe he meant the years spent finding himself and his knuckleball, the pitch that led him here.
Funny thing, though. He'd fought for so long to become a good pitcher, and tried to believe he might one day stand on a mound at an All-Star game and think it a stage. It could have ended on so many days in so many places. The life of a journeyman is that fragile. Instead, he pitched here, and pitched well enough, and furthered the cause of the National League, which beat the American League 8-0 for its third win in a row.
And what he most fondly remembered later was not the feat, but his entrance from the bullpen, and his exit from the mound.
"Just being here," he said.
Dickey found his family in the crowd and waved. He thought about them, and those who couldn't be here, and the thousands who cheered him from the stadium, those, he said, whose love "poured into me."
The story, then, was as it should be, just the way it played out. It doesn't ever seem to be that simple, however.
When, exactly, the 83rd All-Star game became a platform for all of New York's vanity, occasional self-loathing and various neuroses is not important. It's enough that it did. Left on their own, lord knows, these games and their walk-ups can carry the drama of a tollbooth line, along with the same oxygen to carbon monoxide ratio.
In the days before the NL won by a score that rendered irrelevant every conspiracy quack and howl, random events had gathered in the sticky airspace over Kauffman Stadium. Hovering: stuffed ballot boxes in San Francisco, a Reggie Jackson riff, Tony La Russa's obsession with order, an innocent-enough roster of Home Run Derby sluggers, and two cities' aggrieved fans and columnists.
The game could not – would not – be played until these issues were sorted through, and Bud Selig was held accountable, and the offending manager was punished, and the folks of Kansas City scolded, and the body of the event biopsied.
On that schedule, we were damn lucky to get the national anthems in.
[ Jeff Passan: Booing Robinson Cano no longer Kansas City's privilege]
It landed here, in a heap, at Selig's feet, 1,200 miles from home. A large, celebratory event isn't really large or celebrated until the New York issues are accounted for. Gloriously, at an exhibition only Selig and FOX (and, OK, maybe La Russa) view as something greater, we got the wronged Wright, the forsaken Dickey, the cornered Cano and the suppressed Jackson.
And, you know what? David Wright should have been standing at third base in the first inning on Tuesday night, and Dickey should have gotten the ball first, and Robinson Cano should have been treated better, and maybe Reggie had a point. (Incidentally, if Royals fans so desperately want to see Billy Butler hit batting practice home runs, more of them should come to the ballpark for regular-season games. He does it most every night.)
By Tuesday, this event couldn't have been more Gotham-y had they picked up Kauffman Stadium, dropped it into Central Park and graffiti-ed the fountains. Since they couldn't do that (after all, Citi Field gets the game next season, and that wouldn't be fair) they did scandal. Well, made-up scandal. Nowhere does fake controversy better than New York. And what better place for fake controversy than a fake game?
So Cano, league sources said, had serious reservations about an exposed trip through the streets of Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon, and only after being paired with Derek Jeter did he consent to the red-carpet parade.
So Wright was at third base for the bottom of the fourth inning, and didn't seem any worse for the 3½ innings off.
So Dickey was kind of hacked off over the bullpen job, and NL coaches preferred not to expose starting catcher Buster Posey to the potential humiliation of the knuckleball, and Dickey was cast into a deep and abiding relationship with backup catcher Carlos Ruiz.
They entered the game together in the sixth inning, Dickey to the mound, Ruiz behind the plate and, you know, it was fine. Mike Trout lined Dickey's first knuckleball into center field and then stole second base, but the shutout was never in serious jeopardy. Dickey struck out Mark Trumbo, hit Paul Konerko with a wayward knuckler, then had Miguel Cabrera ground into a double play.
Ruiz, Dickey said, "Did great. I really didn't … throw many super-duper [knuckleballs.] I wanted to throw strikes."
The one knuckler he loved actually followed a fastball Ruiz insisted on. The fastball was low. The knuckleball was true.
"[Ruiz] handled it like he was catching it with chopsticks," said Dickey, which, to be clear, is a compliment. "I would have felt bad if I had struck somebody out at the All-Star game with a fastball and not the knuckleball."
He laughed because he could, because maybe none of this would have seemed real had he not lived it. Maybe it was a matter of time, and maybe it was a good thing R.A. Dickey hung around long enough for his own story to catch up.
"Just being here in general," he said, "has been an incredible apex to an incredible narrative."
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