WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 30: Manger Terry Collins #10 of the New York Mets and manger Davey Johnson #5 of the Washington Nationals laugh after Johnson was hit by a ball during batting practice at Nationals Park on July 30, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Between the two of them, with New York manager Terry Collins' ten-year career in the minor leagues which started in 1971 and thirty years as a manager starting in 1981 and Washington's Davey Johnson's 16 years as a player after signing with Balitimore in 1962 and now 16 years on the bench as a major league manager and 33 total managing at some level of the game, both the 63-year-old Mets' bench boss and the Nats' 69-year-old second-year skipper have seen their share of knuckleballers. In separate interviews after yesterday's game, however, both managers said R.A. Dickey's work in the series finale in D.C. on Thursday afternoon was unlike anything they'd ever seen before.
Dickey, a 37-year-old veteran of ten MLB seasons had always pitched well in Nationals Park, with a (2-1) record, 2.38 ERA, 9 walks and 12 K's in 37.2 IP over six career starts in the nation's capital. He was particularly strong in Nationals Park Thursday afternoon and in his last three-plus starts, actually, over which he's pitched 24.2 innings without allowing a run after throwing 7.1 scoreless in the series finale. Asked if he'd ever seen a knuckleballer on a run like Dickey's on right now, Terry Collins admitted on SNY's post game show that he's never seen anything like it. "I never have, I never have," Collins said, "[Dickey] has the best command of the knuckleball of anyone that I've seen and I've seen [Tim] Wakefield and [Steve] Sparks and Dennis Springer, Charlie Hough. [Dickey] has the best one and today it was the hardest one that I've seen him have in quite a while."
"[Dickey's] got such a variety on knuckleballs," Davey Johnson told reporters after the Nats' 3-1 loss, in which Washington's hitters connected for just four hits when the New York knuckler was on the mound. "He's one of the few, I mean, I've seen some knuckleballers that will throw a hard knuckleball, but his is about as hard as I've ever seen. But he has variations off it, goes down to 67 mph when he wants to just float it up there. It's almost like a curve ball. But the one he uses mostly and I think he has the best command of is that hard knuckleball that just kind of comes up there and wobbles and that's the one we had the most trouble with today."
"He's also got a sneaky fastball," Johnson continued in praising the opposing pitcher, "And he can throw it about 85-86 mph and he locates that pretty good too. So, he's just a tough customer right now, it's not for a happy day facing a knuckleballer." After today's start, the Mets' knuckler is (9-1) on the year with a 2.44 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 19 walks (2.11 BB/9) and 78 K's (8.67 K/9) in 12 starts and 81.0 IP. Dickey's performance allowed the Mets to snap a three-game losing streak and avoid getting swept before New York goes into Interleague play with their crosstown American League rivals. More importantly, the Mets' manager said, it kept them in the mix at the top of the NL East.
"You want to cut the losses as best you can," Collins said after his team salvaged the finale of the three-game set in D.C., "They've got a great club. They've got great pitching. We let one get away the first night in here, so we needed to have this game to go into Yankee Stadium with, and also in my opinion, I'm worried about the Washington Nationals, it kept us close to them too." The Mets win left them 1.5 games behind the NL East-leading Nationals. While the two New York teams meet up in Yankee Stadium, the Nationals will travel north to Boston where they'll take on the Red Sox in a three-game weekend series.
After facing Dickey's knuckleball which averages about 77 mph and his 83 mph "heater", the Nats and 23-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg will face 24-year-old Red Sox' starter Felix Doubront, a left-hander with a 92 mph fastball who's won six of his last eight starts and heads into his twelfth start of 2012 with a (6-2) record, 3.75 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 25 walks (3.61 BB/9) and 66 K's (9.53 K/9) in 62.1 IP. The Nationals have a .220/.289/.352 line against left-handers as a team this year, but they'll likely welcome an opportunity to hit against someone other than R.A. Dickey...