David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.
From where R.A. Dickey is standing right now, in a baseball sense, Mount Kilimanjaro is about the height of a sand castle.
Remember how big a deal it was when Dickey climbed Africa's tallest peak back in January? That's nothing compared to the wizardry Dickey is performing with his knuckleball on a regular basis for the Mets, who climbed on his back again for yesterday's 9-1 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
It's becoming like a Twilight Zone episode. Dickey (10-1, 2.20 ERA) now occupies a time and space beyond statistics. Not only did he break Jerry Koosman's 39-year-old franchise record Wednesday by extending his scoreless streak to 322/3 innings, the Mets were left quibbling over B.J. Upton's two-out infield single in the first.
If not for David Wright's failed barehanded attempt to grab Upton's grounder, the Mets would have wound up with their second no-hitter in the span of 11 days -- after a drought of 50 years and 8,020 games. While the team plans to appeal the scoring on that play, there's no debating the fact that Dickey appears to be residing on another planet right now. One the Rays couldn't see with binoculars Wednesday night.
"You chalk it up and erase this from your mind," Carlos Peña said, "because you faced one of the toughest pitchers going right now. Usually when you see a curveball or see a slider, there's a hump and the slider is supposed to come this way or there's a hump and its slower or its bigger.
"With this, you have no idea what the ball is going to do. If it goes up, you think, OK, it's gong to come down. But no, sometimes it would sail way up. Another one would go up and then it would dive straight down and hit the dirt. It's like a roller coaster. That was amazing."
Peña, like the other Rays, wasn't even angry or frustrated afterward. They were in awe. And during the game, they joked about each other's futility. It was that comical -- and pointless.
"We would often laugh and try to keep ourselves as motivated as possible," Pena added, "instead of getting down on ourselves and frustrated."
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon took his praise a step further. To him, Dickey isn't just a good pitcher. He's like a different species.
"That combination of velocity, movement and strike-throwing ability," Maddon said, "to throw it that hard, with that kind of command, is really unusual. I don't think it's ever been done at that level before, with that particular pitch. He's riding a wave right now, and he deserves it. He's kind of a survivor in a lot of respects."
Told of the Rays' impression of him, how he was described in the other clubhouse as more of a phenomenon than a mere pitcher, Dickey smiled. Was it strange to be perceived as some otherworldly being?
"You mean, like a superhero?" Dickey said as laughter erupted around him. "I do not feel like a superhero."
Even his own manager, Terry Collins, was spellbound watching from the Mets dugout. And poor Mike Nickeas, who had to corral the lively knuckleball for 106 pitches. It was his two passed balls that ultimately led to the scoreless streak ending in the ninth, but who could blame him? It was like trying to catch a firefly.
"I've never seen anything like this -- never," Collins said. "I've seen some dominant pitching, but nothing like he's going through right now."