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Hartnett: Every R.A. Dickey Start Is Must-See TV

DIckey Set To Face Sabathia On Sunday Night
R.A. Dickey (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

R.A. Dickey (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Every time R.A. Dickey takes the hill, it’s a must-see event.

On Monday night, Dickey topped his one-hit, one unearned run, 12-strikeout effort against the Rays by not only holding the Orioles to a single hit, but completed the shutout and punched-out 13 Baltimore batters.

He even helped his own cause by delivering the single that started the Mets’ rally in the bottom of the sixth, which culminated with an Ike Davis grand-slam.  Which leaves only one question: what can he do for an encore?

Dickey became the first National League pitcher since Jim Tobin of the 1944 Boston Braves to record two consecutive one-hit shutouts.  He’s taken his 2012 numbers to a remarkable 11-1 record with an ERA of 2.00 and raised his strikeout total to 103.

In his last four starts, Dickey has thrown 3 complete games.  He hasn’t surrendered an earned run all June and has recorded 42 strikeouts this month while only walking four batters.  This month, Dickey has held batters to a batting average against of .116.

You’d have to search back to May 22 to find the last time Dickey has allowed an earned run.  He’s taken his streak to 42 2/3 innings and is closing in on Dwight Gooden’s franchise record of 49 innings without surrendering an earned run.

The last time I remember a pitcher being this dominant was Pedro Martinez during his heyday with the Boston Red Sox.  When Pedro was at his best, he was in his mid-to-late twenties — by definition his ‘prime years.’

At the same age, Dickey was struggling to crack a big league roster.  His trade value plummeted to the point that the Texas Rangers couldn’t give him away.  Dickey was a sub-average starter with a fastball that couldn’t hit 90 MPH and unspectacular, unreliable breaking pitches.  His ERA was a combined 5.72 during his five-year stay with the Rangers.

Since Dickey donned the Mets’ blue and orange, he’s become a completely different pitcher unlike anything he resembled in his previous American League stops with the Rangers, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners.

Even the best knuckleballers lose their ability with age.  Somehow at 37, Dickey’s gotten better like a fine wine.

Dominant pitchers tend to light up the radar gun, but Dickey’s dominance is something entirely unique.  When Pedro was at his peak, he combined his electrifying fastball with a repertoire of devastating pitches.  The vast majority of Dickey’s pitches are knuckleballs.

The batter knows what’s coming.  Yet, Dickey’s mastered his command of the knuckleball to the degree that he’s able to locate it with pinpoint accuracy.  The result is hitters flailing at air and producing ugly swings.  14.9% of Dickey’s pitches against the Orioles were swinging strikes — an unheard-of ratio.

Dickey wasn’t the only starter in New York to throw a complete game on Monday night.  In the Bronx, CC Sabathia pitched a gem of his own as he went the distance against the Atlanta Braves.

It’s only fitting that Dickey and Sabathia are set to face one another on a nationally televised broadcast on Sunday night.  Dickey’s biggest test will come against the Yankees’ deep and powerful lineup.  He’ll likely have to out-duel Sabathia to earn a victory, a difficult task for any starter.

Should Dickey churn out another spellbinding performance against Yankee bats, he will have grabbed the attention of the entire nation.

Can Dickey continue his brilliance against the Yankees on Sunday?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.