Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mets Turn Their Gaze to Dickey Tonight

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mets Turn Their Gaze to Dickey Tonight

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - It's become the season's most addictive mirage, watching R.A. Dickey's knuckleball defy the laws that govern the struggle between pitchers and hitters. But good luck trying to predict how long Dickey will keep racking up swings and misses, because the answer is beyond anyone's grasp - including his.

It's true, Dickey is body-surfing his way through the best summer of his life, rolling through opposing lineups like it was calisthenics. But that's not to say Dickey actually has solved the mystery of his killer knuckleball. And that's what makes tonight's showdown with CC Sabathia so irresistible.

Dickey could very well embarrass the Yankees, the same way he recently left the Orioles and Rays with a serious case of vertigo. But it's just as possible the Bombers could nuke Dickey's streak of 42 2/3 innings without an earned run, and not just because they're the majors' No. 1 home run hitting team.

Think of what makes the knuckleball so effective, and you begin to understand why Dickey is merely riding shotgun on his rise to the top. Unlike conventional pitchers, who apply spin to make the ball break or cut or dive, Dickey releases the knuckler from his fingertips with no rotation whatsoever, freeing it to move on its own.

It's like liberating a bird from its cage - you have no control over its flight. In Dickey's case, he's upping the risk by throwing the knuckler in excess of 80 mph. No one's ever thrown it that hard, and while the extra velocity creates an unhittable butterfly effect, it leaves open the possibility of the ball rotating once or twice on its way to the plate. And that, as any knuckleball expert will tell you, is like signing one's death warrant.

"There's always this tension that comes with trying to throw the knuckler too hard, because that's when you lose control of it, it becomes like a car that takes a corner too fast," said former Yankee Jim Bouton, who mastered the knuckleball at the end of his career in the '60. "If the pitch isn't perfectly thrown, it's a home run."

So far, Dickey has made it impossible for the hitters to visualize and predict its path.

Actually, the pitch seems to freeze the synapses of their brains altogether, and there's no reason to believe Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson or Derek Jeter will be any more successful than the 374 other batters who've faced Dickey this year and compiled a .194 average.

But Dickey will be the first to admit he doesn't own the pitch or its path; he merely coexists with it. That makes it impossible to say for sure if the journeyman has reached a Nirvana - or if this is just an extended hot streak. Bouton understood the thrill (and fear) that came from relying on the knuckler which, like a moody girlfriend, required constant maintenance.

"I used to worry that my knuckleball would take a vacation on me, that I'd wake up one day and it would be upset with me and be gone," Bouton said by telephone Saturday. …

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