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Few players have been better suited to become cult heroes than R.A. Dickey.
His name starts things off on a curious note and the fact that the guy with that name throws a knuckleball makes you certain to pay close attention when he hits the mound.
His beard and longish hair aren't standard operating procedure for a star pitcher in this town and then there's the story of how he went from top prospect to afterthought because he is missing a ligament in his elbow.
The intrigue continues when you learn that Dickey didn't make the majors until he was 26 and was a thoroughly forgettable/bad pitcher until he was 34. And then he came to the Mets in 2010 and, at 35, everything changed for the better.
The Mets have been the beneficiaries of Dickey's late rise to excellence and never have they gotten more from Dickey than they have over the last four starts. Dickey threw 7.1 shutout innings on Thursday, leading the Mets to a 3-1 win that blocked a Nationals sweep and left them 1.5 games out of first despite two sloppy losses to kick off the series.
Dickey has now thrown 24.2 scoreless innings in a row, seven behind Jerry Koosman's franchise record, and has struck out 38 batters in 30.2 innings of his last four starts. More importantly, the Mets have won all of those games and they are 10-2 overall in the games Dickey has started this season.
His unlikely rise to staff ace, even with Johan Santana in the house, mirrors this Mets team's unlikely rise from the land of no expectations to June relevance.
When you find yourself wondering just how this Mets team has avoided shooting itself in the foot long enough to remain in the mix, you need only look at the bearded late bloomer tossing up zeroes to understand that John Sterling's admonitions against predicting baseball are absolutely correct.
Dickey has been so good this year that it hardly even registered that Thursday was a 12-year-old dream matchup between Dickey and Wang. Ex-Yankee Chien-Ming Wang was on the mound for the Nats, but the desire to see Dickey pitch actually outweighed the desire to giggle about the matchup of last names.
Lucas Duda homered off Wang in the fifth inning to give the Mets a 2-0 lead and Dickey's presence made it feel about 10 times as large. The knuckleball did everything he wanted it to do, the Nationals flailed away at it ineptly and the Mets saved a little face after two bad losses.
In the end, the most remarkable thing isn't that Dickey rescued the Mets. It is that you expect nothing less from a pitcher whose trip to the scrap heap has taken an endlessly entertaining left turn.