David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
As the Mets' clubhouse was emptying late Thursday afternoon, David Wright surprised R.A. Dickey with a postgame present. The third baseman tossed the winning pitcher a Star Wars T-shirt, still wrapped in plastic.
"Wow," Dickey said. "This is great. Where did you get it?"
The smiling Wright replied, "I know a guy."
In what has become a fractured season for the Mets, there still are bonds within this group, and don't underestimate the gravitational pull between the two biggest planets in the Mets' solar system right now.
With both heading into option years for 2013, and free agency beyond that, the two All-Stars are wary of how the Mets approach each other's contract situations. It's not a stretch to say that Wright can't foresee staying in Flushing without a serious effort to keep Dickey here for the next few years -- and vice versa. It's about the message, and being serious about making the Mets into a legitimate contender, starting in 2013.
"My goal is to win," Wright said. "I think we've taken that first step in the right direction. But there's still a long way to go and he's been a crucial piece in helping get this thing turned around in that direction."
All Dickey did Thursday was polish his Cy Young candidacy by beating the Marlins with a five-hitter, his NL-leading fourth complete game, in a 6-1 victory. Dickey improved to 15-3 with a 2.72 ERA. His 10 strikeouts upped his total to 166, which is tied with Justin Verlander for tops in the majors.
"The numbers speak for themselves," Wright said. "There's probably a lot of teams that would like his services. Who doesn't want a guy that's won 15 games through the second week of August?"
The Mets have a $5-million option on Dickey for 2013, so he's under their control for the immediate future. But after lukewarm talks in spring training about an extension, and then a pullback by the Mets into a wait-and-see mode, the front office is beginning to consider reopening those conversations.
Earlier this season, the Mets' show-me stance was a calculated gamble to see if Dickey could duplicate his previous two breakout seasons. Instead, he's surpassed the most optimistic projections, earning a trip to the All-Star Game and becoming a real threat to win the Cy Young.
"I try to just really commit to the moment with things," Dickey said. "Awards or number of games won, that needs to be an organic thing and just needs to happen as part of the process of going out there every day preparing your body to throw 200-plus innings and giving your team a chance to win every time out."
After Thursday's victory, Terry Collins finally admitted that Dickey indeed is the "ace" of his rotation, one that happens to include two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana. In his last 34 starts, stretching back to 2011, Dickey is 18-7 with a 2.58 ERA, 205 strikeouts and 49 walks.
Even at age 37, Dickey has little left to prove. The Mets have decided to scrap their plan to pitch him on short rest, and he has no desire to do it for the sake of chasing 20 wins, as Collins suggested. That also would put his health at risk at a time when his future is being decided.
Dickey's fellow knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield -- no ace in his final years with the Red Sox -- made a total of $26 million from ages 37-44 in Boston. The Yankees' Hiroki Kuroda, also 37, signed a one-year contract worth $10 million last January -- and that's coming off a 13-16 season with a 3.07 ERA for the Dodgers.
Dickey looks as if he could pitch well beyond 40, but ripping up his 2013 option for a new two-year deal with additional vesting options might be a sensible jumping-off point.
It also would be a good start toward building more positive momentum for the franchise -- and maybe even make Wright feel better about signing on for another six to eight years at Citi Field, an absolute necessity for the Mets.
Believe me, Wright is paying attention.
"I don't know how much longer he wants to play or what his goals are," Wright said, "but I think he's still got a lot of good knuckleballs left."
And then he finished the conversation with this: "Hopefully we're on the same team so I don't have to face him."