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R.A. Dickey's miraculous ascent with the Mets has been as unpredictable as his signature knuckleball

Dickey's Deliverance

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It's two inches, maybe three.

A pitcher throwing a fastball puts his extended fingers across the top of the ball. If he moves the tips of those fingers back and doubles them under and grabs the ball instead with his knuckles, everything changes.

Kinesiologically, that's a small movement. For a pitcher, it turns everything on its head. A ball goes from a blistering meteor blazing a 60-foot-6-inch path in the most efficient way possible to a juking, dancing, waddling wobbler. It's like turning a wrench on a Formula One racer and watching it transform into a carnival tea-cup ride.

No, the knuckleball doesn't fly straight, but it can get the job done.

And in a way, that makes it the perfect pitch for R.A. Dickey.

When he was at MBA, Dickey was one of those high school athletes in the paper so much he felt like a member of the family. He was the Big Red's ace pitcher. He was the legendary program's starting quarterback. He was a useful basketball player. He surely befriended the friendless, took the prettiest girl to prom and helped old ladies cross Harding Road.

He went to UT — of course he did — and starred on the diamond there, a fireballer of the American archetype, all sinew and bluster, rearing back and delivering pitch after pitch after pitch.

In 1996, the Texas Rangers — the team of Nolan Ryan, the Platonic ideal of high-speed hurlers — drafted Dickey in the first round. But that high-80s fastball didn't work in the big leagues.

Dickey — who'd worn laurels his whole life — was now simply average.

He had to do something different. His wacky forkball — he called it "The Thing" — was little more than a hard-thrown knuckleball. So he tried to perfect his delivery of baseball's version of a sidewalk con.

He bounced from franchise to franchise — during a stint with the Brewers, he spent time as a Nashville Sound. He finally settled in New York and, as a Met, settled down.

He was now in his mid-30s, and that knuckler started working its spinless magic, jiving around, batters chasing it like drunk fishermen trying to snag a minnow barehanded.

He spent the most recent offseason getting his autobiography published and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, and as 2012's opening day loomed, he was expected to be little more than a useful piece in another ho-hum season for the Mets.

But in perhaps the greatest piece of book publicity of all time, Dickey is putting together one of the most dominant seasons ever by a knuckleballer.

He's 11-1. In his past six starts, he allowed one earned run. In that stretch, he struck out 63 men and walked just five — an amazing display of control while using a pitch no one can predict. His earned run average in those six games is 0.18, which doesn't even make sense.

And Monday, he did something no one's done in 24 years: He threw his second consecutive one-hitter. He's baffled the best hitters in the world with a pitch that wouldn't violate an Interstate speed limit, accomplishing things usually reserved for pitchers with a more traditional approach that focuses on pace. They are deep fryers; Dickey's knuckleball is a Crock-Pot — it's slow and it gets the job done, but no one really understands how it works.

All this from a guy who in his first start relying on the knuckleball in 2006 gave up six home runs.

Dickey, now 37, is the bettor's choice to start for the National League in the All-Star Game in Kansas City. Like the pitch he uses better than anybody in decades, his trajectory has been unpredictable — but it sure is fun to watch.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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