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Palladino: Starting Cain Over Dickey Is Right Call

(credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

We all know how this is going to go.

National League manager Tony La Russa will start a particular Giants right-hander over R.A. Dickey in tonight’s All-Star Game, and every hot-blooded Mets fan will raise “Cain” over his decision.

By the time the yelling and screaming subsides sometime around the Friday’s regular season restart, you’ll think letting Matt Cain pitch the first three innings was something akin to La Russa punching Dickey in the throat.

Now, we all love Dickey’s backstory. How can you not? A 37-year-old knuckleball pitcher, the only one in baseball to boot, comes out of the blue with a 12-1, 2.40 start after a decidedly mediocre career. He’s humble. He’s grateful. He’s everything you want as a representative not only of his team, but of his entire league.

Heck, he’s a great rep for all of Major League Baseball.

His last start came sufficiently early so that he’d be available for La Russa, if the old manager so chose.

He didn’t.

Instead, he goes with Cain. And, really, Cain is a legitimate choice for a couple of reasons.

For one, the righty has been a good pitcher for a long time — far longer than Dickey, even though Dickey’s total pro career spans twice the length of Cain’s. Half of it, however, happened in the minor leagues.

Cain’s 9-3, 2.62 record would warrant the start on its own. But this is a way, too, to honor him for his perfect game, something Dickey hasn’t accomplished.

Then there’s the matter of the kind of pitch Dickey throws. As if a knuckleball isn’t hard enough to corral even for a pitcher’s regular catcher, his flutter pitch comes in somewhere around 80 MPH. That’s a lot quicker than the average knuckleball, and it takes a lot of experience to keep it from rolling to the backstop every other toss.

You can bet Cain’s fellow starter and battery mate Buster Posey, and backup Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies will appreciate having to deal with Dickey’s knuckler for just one inning, depending on what part of the game La Russa inserts him into, as opposed to Posey having to catch it for three or four innings.

Actually, watching that might have been fun, if not for the fact that this game is not just a meaningless exhibition. The winner gets that extra home game in the World Series. The stupidity of linking the All-Star Game with the World Series is another conversation entirely, as are the varying perceptions of the importance of home field advantage in baseball.

But the reality is what it is, and right now a tangible reward lies at stake. La Russa won’t want to jeopardize that with a guy throwing a trick pitch to someone with no experience in catching the baseball rarity with men on base.

The only thing Mets fans should get angry about is if Dickey never hits the field. He deserves his appearance. He deserves his inning, his time in the sun. He has worked too hard, traveled too long a journey, to sit idle the entire game. If that happens and La Russa comes up with some nonsense about saving him in case of extra innings, then La Russa deserves whatever criticism comes down on him. That would truly be a crock, and everybody would know it.

If he’s too dangerous to use at the start, Dickey’s and his pitch would certainly be too risky to use in a situation like that. Imagine ending this one on a passed ball by Ruiz or a wild pitch.

Bad.

The guess here, though, is that Dickey will come in somewhere in the middle innings, throw an inning, and be done with it. And the only hard feelings will be felt by Mets fans who believe La Russa stiffed their guy.

Even Dickey will be content. As he told the media Sunday, “The fact that we’re having an argument about me starting the All-Star Game is kind of miraculous.”

Indeed. Let’s just hope he gets his camera time at some point. The last knuckleball pitcher who made an All-Star roster, Tim Wakefield in 2009, didn’t get in at all.

Dickey may never have been the ideal starter, but he certainly has earned the right to pitch tonight.

Where do you stand on the Cain vs. Dickey debate? Be heard in the comments below!