– Back in 2005, when current Orioles manager Buck Showalter was with the Texas Rangers, he and two others convinced R.A. Dickey that the only way he would be a successful major league pitcher was to attempt to master the knuckleball.
On Monday, Dickey, arguably the most befuddling hurler in the big leagues right now, made that advice come back to haunt Showalter in a 5-0 New York Mets win.
“It's pleasant to see him, but not see him pitch,” said Showalter, who joined Mark Connor and Orel Hershiser in that heart-to-heart with Dickey seven years ago. “It's a challenging night. Hitters are seeing things they don't normally see. Umpires are seeing pitches they don't normally see. [Monday] , it was a challenge for both.”
The Orioles (39-28) weren't happy with some of the strike calls made by home plate umpire Eric Cooper, which helped Dickey record a career-high 13 strikeouts in his second consecutive complete-game, one-hitter. But Cooper deserves a partial break, considering how much Dickey's low-80s knuckler was moving.
“Plenty of guys have plenty of opinions about the calls [Monday night] , but it's tough. Because some of them are starting in the strike zone and go out and you take one and it ends up being in the middle of the plate,” said right fielder Chris Davis, who struck out three times, including the game-ender. “He's a tough pitcher to face. He's had a lot of success this year. He obviously knows what he's doing.”
How tough is Dickey right now?
Consider that the last time a pitcher threw back-to-back one-hitters was Toronto's Dave Stieb in 1988, according to Elias Sports Bureau; Dickey is the first NL pitcher to do it since Jim Tobin of the Boston Braves in 1944.
Dickey (11-1) had his scoreless inning streak snapped by an unearned run at 32 innings in his last start. But he hasn't given up an earned run in an incredible 42 2/3 innings. He leads the majors in victories and has won nine straight decisions.
“Personally I think he is the best pitcher in the game right now,” said Orioles starter Jake Arrieta, who actually drew one of two walks against Dickey. “I don't know if there is a question about it, especially based on the scoreless inning streak that he has going. … It's really incredible.”
Before an announced crowd of 29,014 that often chanted his name, Dickey took a no-hitter into the fifth, when Orioles' third baseman Wilson Betemit laced a two-out single to right center. Dating back to the first inning of his last start against the Tampa Bay Rays, Dickey had thrown 13 consecutive hitless innings before Betemit halted the streak. Dickey then allowed one more walk the rest of the way – and had the fans screaming in the ninth inning
“It's surreal. You almost get emotional out there, especially that last hitter,” said Dickey, who became the first pitcher to throw a one-hitter against the Orioles since Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens on July 1, 2011. “You hear everybody, like one big heartbeat beating. That's the best way I could explain it.''
In his last start, Dickey's lone hit allowed came with two outs in the first inning when B.J. Upton dribbled a roller that Mets' third baseman David Wright attempted to bare hand, but couldn't. The Mets challenged the ruling after the fact, hoping that Dickey would be awarded a no-hitter, but Major League Baseball denied the appeal.
There was no question about Betemit's hit – or Dickey's current dominance.
“He's got to be right up there,” said Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy when asked about where Dickey currently ranks among pitchers he has faced. “It's tough, it's really tough.”
Arrieta (3-9) was pretty good, too, in his second start after being demoted to the bullpen June 9. He retired 14 of the first 17 batters he faced. But in the sixth Dickey led off with a single, and, with one out, Jordany Valdespin, doubled. After a two-out walk to load the bases, Ike Davis hit a 92-mph sinker into deep center for the first grand slam of his career.
“He was outstanding, except for one pitch,” Showalter said about Arrieta.
Those were the only runs Arrieta allowed – but it was enough. The right-hander gave up six hits, one walk and struck out four in seven innings. Reliever Kevin Gregg allowed one run in the lone inning he pitched.
“I knew that was going to be tough to battle back with Dickey throwing as well as he is,” Arrieta said. “It's pretty incredible what he is doing right now. I knew coming in I would have to limit them to two runs or less and that was a big blow in the sixth, but overall I am happy with it. I feel like I did everything I could outside of that one pitch to put a quality start up.”
Arrieta was a question before the game started. He was sick all day Sunday, apparently the victim of food poisoning. He said he had a pork chop at the team hotel in Atlanta on Saturday night, which he believes was the cause of his illness.
“Wasn't able to eat all day yesterday. I was able to stomach a banana and that was about it,” Arrieta said. “Once I got some food in my stomach this morning, I felt a little bit better. But just walking around I was sluggish and it was hard to find that energy level.”
It was the Orioles offense that seemed nauseated after Monday night. That's what happens when you swing and swing and can't hit a ball that is floating and darting and diving.
“It's frustrating when you go against a force like that. You are not going to have a lot of success,” Davis said. “He was all over the place and trying to hit it was almost impossible tonight. We had one hit, so you got to tip your hat to him.”