KANSAS CITY, Mo.
R.A. Dickey should have seen this coming. As a No. 1 draft pick whose life was flipped upside down by a photograph, then transported beyond his dreams by a pitch as capricious -- his word -- as a knuckleball, he knows by now to expect the unexpected.
For this particular All-Star Game and this starting assignment, let's defer to Clint Eastwood's black-hearted outlaw in "Unforgiven" who famously spit through gritted teeth, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." And that's why Matt Cain got the call.
Yes, Dickey clearly deserved the start. He had the best first half of any pitcher in either league, and we're not just talking statistics. You want must-see TV? Tune in to see the most ferocious hitters in the sport look silly for an inning or two swinging at a pitch most guys can practice throwing in their backyard.
During Monday's media session, I polled a handful of the AL All-Stars to see what they'd rather face: the Dickey knuckleball or the conventional but nasty repertoire of Cain.
It was no contest. Every one preferred to hit against Cain.
"It's more straightforward," the White Sox's Paul Konerko said. "I watched Dickey pitch the other day on TV and you have no idea where the ball is going. There's no way to prepare for that."
"He's dirty," Adam Jones said of Dickey, who threw the first of his two consecutive one-hitters against the Orioles.
So if Dickey has the better resume and actually is more feared by his peers than Cain, what gives?
Here's what happened: Wrong manager, wrong catcher -- and there's nothing Dickey can do about that.
Put those two elements together and La Russa chose to play it safe, pairing Posey with the familiar Cain and opting to use the more confident Carlos Ruiz with the unpredictable Dickey.
"No disrespect to Buster -- he's a great, great player," Mets manager and NL coach Terry Collins said. "But that's what Tony felt. And as you guys know, he's got a great feel for things and how he wants the game to be run, and so I think it's going to work."
Collins was in a tough spot. He prides himself on having his players' backs, but he had to bow to La Russa on this one.
Dickey sounded especially annoyed that La Russa didn't give him a heads-up and that he had to find out via a text message from a friend.
But here's something I'll side with La Russa on: The All-Star Game is bigger than any one player, and the sooner Dickey comes to terms with that, the more he'll enjoy what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
"I wish he could start the game," Wright said. "But that's not my decision. If that gives us the best chance to win the game, that's what Tony feels, then I think we're all for it. You can't feel bad for somebody coming into the All-Star Game."
This is Wright's sixth trip to the Midsummer Classic, at age 29, so he's looking at it differently from the 37-year-old Dickey, who's making his first.
"He's got to understand the big picture," Collins said. "The biggest stage is Oct. 21, pitching Game 1 . Be on that stage one time. If this is a stepping-stone to that, then I'm happy he's not starting this game. Because I want that to be his goal."