At 35, R.A. Dickey has learned plenty of lessons through his baseball career. He showed this week that it's never too late to learn another.
On Tuesday, he was fighting fatigue as he tried to work seven innings, and it bit him when the Marlins' Gaby Sanchez launched a three-run homer that turned the Mets' two-run lead into a one-run deficit. The Mets came back to win that game, but Dickey didn't want to put his team in that position again.
So after seven strong innings Sunday against the Astros, Dickey made sure to tell pitching coach Dan Warthen that he was getting a little tired. He allowed a leadoff single in the eighth to Tommy Manzella, and Jerry Manuel quickly went to the bullpen.
"It's taken me a while to learn that wisdom sometimes trumps being competitive," said Dickey, who allowed a run and six hits in seven-plus innings. "This one happened less than a week ago and it cost us, even though we won the game. I didn't want to jeopardize us this time."
The Mets were in less danger of blowing a late lead Sunday, thanks to that second-inning outburst, which started with a pair of walks sandwiched around a double by Ike Davis. Luis Hernandez, making his Mets debut at shortstop, struck out for the first out, but Dickey punched a single up the middle off Bud Norris (6-8) to drive in the first two runs of the game.
"I know my limitations," said Dickey, who also singled in the sixth and is hitting .211 with five RBIs. "I'm just trying not to strike out."
Angel Pagan brought in a run with a groundout and Luis Castillo singled to drive in Dickey for a 4-0 lead. After the Astros' Jason Castro doubled in the third and scored on Michael Bourn's infield single, Josh Thole - coming off a couple of days of rest - hit a solo homer in the sixth. It was his second home run of the season and part of a 2-for-3 day for the rookie catcher.
"We're trying to let him get established [as a catcher], but at the same time, we want him to be fresh," Manuel said.
Thole, who is hitting .307 (35-for-114), doesn't see himself becoming a power hitter, even though he mashed his homer off the second-deck facade in right.
"For myself, it's a maturity thing," Thole said. "I know my role, I know my swing. If I start trying to hit home runs, it's going to take a [bad] turn for me. I don't think that's my game, especially right now."
Dickey, like Thole, still is working to establish himself, even at an age when most starting pitchers are slowing down. Manuel voiced great respect for Dickey's honesty. "That's the relationship you hope to develop with each of your guys," he said.
The knuckleballer, who lowered his ERA to 2.56 after 20 starts, still is trying to become a consistent, reliable pitcher no matter where it takes him beyond this unexpected 2010 season. "It's just being consistent with what I have to offer," Dickey said. "It's not throwing a better knuckleball, not throwing one that's nastier or more wicked. It's just repeating the one that I do throw well over and over again in the strike zone. And that's for me the next part."
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