When he was growing up, Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey remembers sifting through newspaper boxscores with his grandfather. He recalls keeping track of Shawon Dunston, checking every day to see if he had upped his average to .300.
Dickey has carried that habit into adulthood. He still checks boxscores. But he doesn't check them to keep track of his Cy Young Award chances, which weren't helped Monday night when the Mets squandered his strong effort in a 3-1 loss to the Phillies.
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"That does not change the way I go about my business, so it doesn't do me any good to wish bad for them or good for them, or whatever else,'' Dickey said, referring to other Cy Young candidates such as the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez and the Reds' Johnny Cueto. "I just need to take care of me, and that's what I've tried to do consistently.''
Once again, Dickey (18-6) lived up to his end of the bargain, though his teammates did not.
With sufficient run support, Dickey might have capped it off with a win, bolstering his chances in an increasingly tight Cy Young Award race.
Instead, for the third time this season, the Mets wasted a quality start from Dickey. Cliff Lee (6-7) handcuffed the Mets, striking out 10 in eight innings and allowing only one run, the 14th straight game at Citi Field in which the Mets failed to score more than three runs.
"We'll go back at the end of the year and recount the number of games where he didn't get a decision or where he allowed us to have an opportunity to win, and hopefully it doesn't come back there to bite him too bad,'' manager Terry Collins said.
Dickey's night began with some self-inflicted punishment. Mike Nickeas failed to hang on to one of Dickey's knuckleballs, allowing leadoff man Rollins to reach base despite striking out.
Dickey made matters worse by bouncing a pickoff throw past first baseman Lucas Duda. Rollins advanced to second on Dickey's error, moved to third on John Mayberry's tapper in front of the plate and scored on Chase Utley's sacrifice fly. Dickey got Ryan Howard to ground out to avoid further damage.
"You know it's going to be a factor, as difficult as it's been for us to score runs,'' Collins said. "To almost give them a run is hard. You've got to make them earn it.''
With nothing left to play for as a team, the Mets have channeled their energies toward an individual cause. Collins has even adjusted his lineups to bolster Dickey's chances. Monday night, he wanted to start Kelly Shoppach but reconsidered because he hadn't caught Dickey's knuckleball all season.
But Collins drew a fine line Monday night. With the Mets trailing by two runs in the seventh, he lifted Dickey for a pinch hitter.
"Sending me up there against Cliff Lee is not the best opportunity for us to win the game, and I get that,'' Dickey said. "I could have pitched a complete game tonight but that wouldn't have given us the best chance to win against that guy.''
After 111 pitches, his chase for win No. 19 was over. Now his Cy Young candidacy will consist of only three more starts.
The Mets have no plans to alter their rotation to start Dickey on short rest, which would give him more chances to win. So his next scheduled start will be Sunday against the Marlins.
Said Dickey: "To manipulate it like that doesn't feel right.''