The atmosphere last night at Citi Field was unlike it had ever been in the stadium’s short history. While the Subway Series alone carries a certain pressure that New York fans are more than familiar with, last night’s game had a different feel to it. With both the New York Yankees and the New York Mets contending in their respective divisions, it seemed that last night’s rubber match had more than bragging rights on the line. And all of this was only compounded by the fact that arguably the best NL pitcher in R.A. Dickey and the best AL pitcher in CC Sabathia were taking the hill for what was shaping up to be a pitcher’s duel for the ages.
While Mets fans had been familiar with Dickey’s incredible pitching streak, fans nationwide were anticipating getting a glimpse of the knuckleballer who had transformed into a phenomenon as of late. Dickey, the only current knuckleballer in baseball, had seemed to do what no one else before him had; he seemed to be able to control the ball when he pitched, leveraging the knuckleball’s wild nature by throwing it at a higher velocity than most had ever seen. While Sabathia entered last night’s game posting no small numbers of his own, the talk seemed to squarely be about Dickey. The spotlight, though, may have been a bit too bright for him.
Dickey’s previous two outings made any performance he may have had last night difficult to top; back-to-back complete game 1-hit shutouts are hard enough to come by, let alone throwing two in a row. So while most didn’t expect Dickey to be as dominant as he had been, they did expect to see a performance that would dazzle them. Yet, he was anything but dazzling.
In six innings, Dickey gave up five earned runs on five hits. He walked three, more than he had in his previous two starts combined, struck out only three and allowed a home run to Nick Swisher. Dickey’s 11-1 record was only saved by a mid-game Mets rally that tied the game up and got him off the hook for a loss.
In watching the game, any fan who had followed Dickey’s historic run could tell that his game was just…off. His knuckleball seemed flat, his velocity was down, and his control, as evidenced by a first inning ball that almost nailed Alex Rodriguez, was off. From the start, Dickey seemed flustered. The only question is why?
Was the pressure of last night’s game with a national spotlight too much for R.A. Dickey to handle? Or did he really just have an off game, as any pitcher can and does from time to time?
There’s no doubt that Dickey knows the pressure is mounting. With his success, he has opened himself up to intense scrutiny and examination. He’s no longer flying under the radar like he was, but has become a focal talking point for both media members and fans of the game. He is the pitcher that Mets fans will flock to Citi Field to see.
R.A. Dickey has shown he can pitch; his 11-1 record and historic streak serve as all the evidence you need to know that. But whether he is for real, and whether or not the pressure he experienced last night and the pressure he is sure to experience going forward is too much for him to handle, will be determined in his next couple of starts.
Can Dickey bounce back and be the pitcher he has been for the first half of 2012? Or will he falter and crack in the pressure cooker that is New York? Weigh in and let us know your thoughts!
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