NEW YORK - The whole point of a knuckleball is that no one knows exactly where it's headed, including the pitcher who threw it. But lately, the Mets' R.A. Dickey has developed a feel for a different kind of knuckler, one that jumps up at the end instead of diving. It's not 100-percent controllable, but that might make Dickey even more dangerous.
Nobody will confuse the San Diego Padres' anemic batting order with Murderers' Row, but Dickey had them shaking their heads on the way back to the dugout during the Mets' 2-0 win at Citi Field Sunday.
"We went out to make the pitching change, and [plate umpire Tim] Tschida said, 'I've never seen a ball do that kind of stuff,' " manager Terry Collins said. "That tells you how good it was."
Dickey (7-1) allowed three hits and struck out 10 in 7 1/3 innings, reaching double-digit strikeouts for only the third time. He struck out a career-high 11 in his previous start and has 29 in 20 1/3 innings in his past three outings.
It was a good thing Dickey was so sharp because the Mets mustered only five hits themselves, all against Edinson Volquez (2-5) in his 5 2/3 innings.
They pushed across a run in the first when David Wright walked, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Daniel Murphy. They added another in the fifth when Mike Baxter led off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball.
After Nick Hundley singled in the second, Dickey settled into a groove in which he essentially got 15 straight outs, except one didn't count. Andy Parrino reached first leading off the sixth when he fanned but was safe on a passed ball that escaped Mike Nickeas.
A television replay provided graphic evidence of the difficulty Padres hitters and Nickeas faced on that pitch, which fluttered with the minimal rotation of a knuckleball before veering up. Parrino swung under it and the ball went off the top portion of Nickeas' mitt.
"That's the one we're talking about," Nickeas said. "He's learning to control that elevated knuckleball where it looks like it's going to come down and it pops up at the end. It's incredible the way it moves . . . It's kind of scary."
Nickeas said Dickey told him midway through his previous start that he could control the elevated knuckler. "A knuckleball is a funny thing," Dickey said. "It's very enigmatic. Today I was able to change speeds with it a lot. I was able to elevate some. I'm starting to get a little more of a feel on how to do some things with it. That's exciting. But still, I tried to do a couple of things, and they did the opposite of what I wanted it to do."
He sounded like a scientist who has made a stunning discovery in the laboratory and now must verify the authenticity of his findings through replication. "I've seen the knuckleball move as good as it has the last two outings, but it was on accident," he said. "I would throw it, and it does the things it's going to do.
"But today and last outing and mechanically between outings, I've been able to repeat some deliveries where I can make it do a couple different things. That's been fun. It may not stay in that place, but right now, it's nice to be able to enjoy that."