Johan Santana did his part, carrying the Mets in a 1-0 win over the Phillies yesterday. Now it's R.A. Dickey's turn. He's been the de facto No. 2 starter the last couple months and now he just is that. How strange is this? Mets fans can go into this game, against the Phillies and Roy Halladay, feeling confident in their team's chances. Even the forlorn pessimists might have some hope. And for good reason, because Dickey has been the human silver lining. If anyone pictured this in April, that image must've been Photoshopped.
R.A. Dickey versus Roy Halladay as two names on a marquee would look like a mighty mismatch. But they're two of the hottest pitchers in the league right now and this sets up to be a pitcher's duel.
The Mets/Phillies matchup isn't what it was a couple years ago, now with both teams looking up at the Braves. But there's still heat; still a yearning for one-upmanship. At 55-55 and eight games out, it's unlikely the Mets have a real shot at the division title. But if they can, they'll need a run right about now. Taking 2 of 3 from the Phillies would be a boost. For Philly, this is another opportunity to put extra distance between themselves and third place and apply more pressure on the Braves, who've cooled off. The Phillies (61-49), now just two games out, are 7-3 in their last 10 games while the rest of the division has stumbled.
R.A. Dickey (NYM) vs. Roy Halladay (PHI)
Maybe it is possible to figure it out this late in a career. And perhaps 35 is the new 25 – at least for knuckleballers. It could just be a savvy pitcher – a now crafty righthander – facing a league that hasn't seen him, catching batters off-guard and off-balance with a floater that's fortunately fluttered in his favor along a 99-inning magic carpet ride. We've seen previously unsuccessful veteran starters have flash-in-the-pan seasons before (heck, Aaron Small was 10-0 in 2005). Maybe it all dissolves next year and we're left wondering how this season happened and what happened after that. You know what, though? It's the present that matters. And right now, Dickey is pitching like an ace. He's 7-4 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. If he had enough innings pitched to qualify, he'd be fifth in baseball in ERA (ahead of Cliff Lee). In his last five starts, Dickey has a 1.59 ERA and has held opponents to a .190 batting average. The Phillies have had success getting on base against him. The last time he faced them (May 25), he allowed seven hits and three walks in six innings. Dickey, however, didn't give up a run and got the win in the Mets' 8-0 rout. Philly's current roster is hitting a collective .340 in 50 at-bats, though they've managed just five runs. Placido Polanco has faced him the most times, going 5-for-14 with two RBIs. Mike Sweeney, who continues to fill in for the injured Ryan Howard, is 3-for-6.
Remember when Halladay was scuffling a bit – by his standards – earlier in the season? Yeah, forget that. He's now 13-8 with a 2.17 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 158 strikeouts and just 21 walks in an MLB-high 178 innings. That's Greg Maddux-like. In his last six starts, he's 4-1 and has held opponents to a .209 average. He beat the Mets in his only start against them this season, throwing a three-hitter with six strikeouts on May 1. As well, Halladay has a 1.65 ERA at Citizens Bank Park. The Mets have hit .323 in 65 at-bats against him, though. Carlos Beltran, who faced him in the American League, is 11-for-27 with three walks, a homer and seven RBIs. Jose Reyes is 4-for-8 with a triple and David Wright is 2-for-6 with a triple. As dominant as Halladay is, he's not a power pitcher. He relies on his impeccable control and location, lots of movement and a deep arsenal with an array of breaking balls. In 0-and-2 counts, opponents are hitting .088 against him (that's six two-strike hits all season). Halladay features a four-seam fastball that usually sits between 90-93 mph, an excellent tailing two-seamer, a sinker, an 88-90 mph cutter, a slow curveball and a diving changeup.