We all know about the redemptive nature of baseball.
If you didn’t, you got a major dose of it yesterday.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter is a poster boy for baseball’s second chances. He’s been dismissed from three different managerial jobs. And he found a fourth -- because he is a proven winner -- in Baltimore. And, suddenly, he has his team, this organization that has lost 14 consecutive seasons, competing for the lead in the American League East in June.
The Orioles lost Monday at Citi Field, 5-0, to the New York Mets. Showalter wasn’t happy afterwards, partially upset that home plate umpire Eric Cooper had a liberal strike zone – perhaps way too liberal – which helped allow knuckleballerR.A. Dickey to throw a complete-game one-hitter in which he threw out a career-high 13 batters.
“It's a challenging night,” Showalter said. “Hitters are seeing things they don't normally see. Umpires are seeing pitches they don't normally see. Tonight, it was a challenge for both.”
Showalter is an exceptionally competitive man. He wasn’t going to cheer the opposition, because he was still smarting from a loss. And he didn’t feel his hitters got a fair shake against the darting, dipping, fluttering knuckleball from Dickey.
But there’s more to this one than just a well-pitched game. It was Showalter, along with Orel Hershiser and Mark Connor, who told Dickey in the mid-2000s in Texas that he wasn’t going to make it as a big league pitcher. Unless, maybe, if he could master a knuckler.
“I think the biggest thing was the makeup,” Showalter said before the game about why he pushed Dickey to try the knuckleball. ”He had every attribute of a major league pitcher except the arm. Everything. The big thing was whether he was going to buy into it. But he loved a challenge.”
Then Showalter, who speaks exceptionally high of Dickey, joked: “I wish it hadn’t happened.”
But Dickey, a former Texas Rangers first-rounder who is now 37 years old and suddenly one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball for the Mets, is glad it did. He will never forget what Showalter did.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to him," Dickey said. "He’s the one that gave me the opportunity to cultivate that pitch at the foundational levels down in the minor leagues with the Texas Rangers. He believed I could do it. Now, it took a while for me to get it. … He gave me the canvas to be able to operate on. He was the guy, he and Orel kind of pushed me in that direction. I’m thankful they did.”
The last time Showalter was managing and Dickey was pitching in the same game it was April 2006 and Dickey allowed six homers in 3 1/3 innings against Detroit. It was two years before Dickey would pitch in the majors again. And now this: a complete-game one hitter – his second consecutive one-hitter following last week’s gem versus the Tampa Bay Rays – against the Orioles.
“It was fairly poetic, I thought,” Dickey said. “The last game he saw me pitch live, I gave up six home runs and tied a modern-day major league record. Only God could script a narrative like this. It’s really incredible.”
That’s redemption. And deep down I’m sure no one is happier for Dickey than Showalter. He just wishes that masterpiece didn’t come against his team.