R.A. Dickey can't hide All-Star disappointment

R.A. Dickey walks off the mound in the R.A. Dickey walks off the mound in the fifth inning. (May 17, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tony La Russa never specifically said what tilted an admittedly "tough decision" in Matt Cain's favor.

But the National League manager's choice of the Giants' Cain over the Mets' R.A. Dickey to start in Tuesday night's All-Star Game left the knuckleballer unable to hide his disappointment.

"Well," Dickey said, "I'm not going to break down in tears over it. But at the same time, I'm a competitor. I want to pitch. I want to start. I feel like I had a good enough first half to be considered. But I'm not the boss. I don't have to necessarily agree with it, but I certainly have to respect it. That's the way it is.

"I think that might be one of my bigger disappointments because I really felt like it would have been a neat thing for the New York Mets organization and the fan base. Having shared so much of this story with them, I felt like that would have been a neat culmination or apex to the story."

Dickey, 37, whose 12 wins at the break tie him for most in the majors with Gio Gonzalez, has a 2.40 ERA, fifth among NL qualifiers for the title. He also threw back-to-back one-hitters. Cain had his own highlight-heavy first half, pitching a perfect game and going 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA.

"I just looked at it, Dunc and I did have some conversations, and we wanted to reward Matt Cain for a career of excellence that's getting better and better," La Russa said of discussions with pitching coach Dave Duncan. "It was a tough call. I think whenever R.A. pitches or anybody pitches for either side, or plays, I think it's a great experience, and it's only a little more special to start the game."

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La Russa would not say if National League starting catcher Buster Posey's unfamiliarity with the knuckleball played a role in his decision. Posey and Cain are Giants teammates.

Posey, who never has caught a knuckleball, bluntly said "I don't know" when asked if he could. "I know they can be challenging," he said. "I've seen guys struggle with them before." In the 1986 All-Star Game, Boston's Rich Gedman was flummoxed by the fluttering knuckler of Charlie Hough, and a wild pitch and a passed ball led to two NL runs.

Dickey, who found out via text message from a friend that he won't start, hoped that wasn't the case. "You're talking about the best baseball players in the world," he said. "And to say that someone's got a pitch that's too nasty for the best people, I mean, it just doesn't make any sense. If that's the reason, I think that's a poor reason. But you know, that being said, again, I don't know the reasons, and wherever I pitch, it will be great.''

La Russa called Dickey's story "a great one," but not reason enough to bestow the honor of starting him. He guaranteed the pitcher will appear in the "first half" of the game.

Mets manager Terry Collins, one of La Russa's coaches in the game, didn't criticize the recently retired Cardinals manager but supported his player. "R.A. is going to pitch in this game, and that to me is all that matters," Collins said. "The road traveled was very bumpy for him. And when he walks on that mound, he should be very proud of what he's accomplished. He's probably disappointed. It's human nature to be that way. But I think he'll be fine when it's over."

The American League lineup includes three Yankees. Manager Ron Washington announced that Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano will hit 1-2 and Curtis Granderson will bat ninth. The entire Yankees contingent, including CC Sabathia, who will not pitch because of a groin injury, arrived at about 5 a.m., having played another marathon Sunday night against the Red Sox.

"It's always fun to be here," Jeter said. "I always enjoy coming to All-Star Games. It's an honor. Every player, they're lying to you if they tell you otherwise." With David Lennon are the only 12-game winners in the majors, has the lowest ERA (2.40) in the NL and only Stephen Strasburg (128) has more than his 123 strikeouts. Dickey also became the first pitcher to throw back-to-back one-hitters since the Blue Jays' Dave Stieb in 1988.

Apparently that wasn't enough. Cain also made history by throwing a perfect game in the first half, the first for the Giants. But from a statistical viewpoint, he doesn't match up with Dickey. Cain is 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA.

Last Thursday, Tony La Russa, who is briefly coming out of retirement to manage the NL team, hinted that Dickey might not get the start.

"This isn't to highlight one player or one pitcher or a handful of players or a handful of pitchers," La Russa said then. "Dickey could certainly start the game. He's got the credentials. But I look at the starter-types of the five guys that were selected and each of those guys can make a claim.

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"So I think it's just, in the end, as a manager or coach, you have to keep your heart pure, you do the best you can for the team and not for an individual and see how that plays out."

La Russa will get the chance to further explain his decision later Monday.

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