It's pretty bleak out in Queens these days.
The Mets are circling the drain in front of a handful of ticketholders who either think they've stumbled onto the one surefire way to enjoy Shake Shack without waiting on an endless line or, like Richard Gere in "An Officer and a Gentleman," simply have no place else to go. Johan Santana's gone and no one knows when we might see him again, Francisco Rodriguez continues to be an embarrassment and the offseason holds no promises that things will get better anytime soon.
All of which makes us thank the heavens that much more for the arrival of R.A. Dickey. The bearded knuckleballer arrived on the scene as nothing more than a curiosity and a sign that the Mets had once again backed the wrong horses in their starting rotation, but he ends it as the one and only reminder for Mets fans about why they like baseball in the first place.
Dickey won his 11th game on Tuesday night at
Empti Citi Field and he did it in predictably fine fashion. He shut out the Pirates until the ninth inning for his second complete game of the season, a wise choice given how little help one can expect from the rest of the Mets on a nightly basis. Those 11 wins are tied for third-best in the National League since Dickey arrived on the scene at the end of May and it was his 17th quality start in 23 tries this season, a higher percentage than Cy Young candidates like Roy Halladay and Clay Buchholz have been able to manage.
In this season of abject failure, Dickey has made it possible for the Mets and their fans to have a little bit of joy once every five days before going back to the interminable slog towards another long winter. About the only thing that makes it possible to approach that winter with anything but dread is the hope that next April will begin with Dickey on the mound as a harbinger of better days. It sounds ridiculous, but who is a better choice for the start on Opening Day than R.A.?
Knuckleballers are inherently likable because they go against the athletic ideal of bigger, faster and stronger. Dickey doubles down on that because he has no ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, which means that he shouldn't be anywhere near a big league mound. He triples down on it because he's 35 and has never shown ability like this at any point in his long career as a journeyman pitcher. He quadruples it by being a witty and intelligent guy who is gracious with his time to the media. And who doesn't like a guy with some healthy facial hair?
Anything so unexpected is to be appreciated, especially when there's always a voice in the back of the head saying that there's no way Dickey is going to be able to pull this off for another season. The same things that have made this run so enjoyable are the things that can make baseball such a cruel game. The law of averages, regression to the mean and the like all say that Dickey's moment in the sun is right now and he must savor as many rays as he possibly can.
That goes for all of us, of course, and serves as just another reminder of why baseball and life go together as well as chocolate and peanut butter.