R.A. Dickey sets his sights on home stretch of unforgettable season

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 11:18pm

With a little more than six weeks remaining in the season and his greatest year in professional baseball all but assured, Nashville’s R.A. Dickey briefly looked back.

Last Thursday, he raised his record to 15-3 with a five-hit, 10-strikeout, no-walk, complete game in the New York Mets’ 6-1 win over Miami. With roughly 10 starts left, 20 wins or more are well within his reach.

“At this point, all I’m worried about is (win) No. 16,” he said last week in a phone interview with the City Paper. “My next start is against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, and I’m not looking beyond that. If I do, I start getting myself into trouble.”

A journeyman pitcher until he perfected the knuckleball pitch, Dickey, 37, is a runaway leader for Major League Baseball’s Comeback Player of the Year award.

Also, at or near the top of the National League in wins, strikeouts and ERA, he remains solidly in the conversation for the Cy Young award.

“Certainly, that would be special, but I haven’t given much thought to it,” he said. “It’s all a process. I’m on pace for 300 innings [pitched], and I want to be known as a pitcher who keeps his team in the game, someone our guys can count on.

“Thankfully, I do feel good. I’ve always prided myself in being dependable for the team, and I want to be able to finish strong.”

His ability to do so will be critical for the Mets, who have slipped well behind the surprising Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves in the N.L. East standings. Although, with two wild card spots at stake for the first time this season Dickey and his teammates are not out of it.

 “We went through a stretch where we lost eight of 11 games and fell back,” he said. “What we have to do going forward is get on roll where we win seven of eight or 10 of 11, something like that and get back in it. It’s been done before. We just have to stay after it.”

Playing in New York, under the scrutiny and added pressure of the media capital of the world has not overwhelmed Dickey in the least.

“Actually I’ve had fun with it and, for the most part, they have been very fair,” Dickey said. “The New York Post has a bit of a tabloid aspect to it, and sometimes they put a different spin on things. But overall it’s been a great experience, and it gives me a big platform to use to tell my story.”

It’s also given him a recent opportunity to get on ‘The Late Show’ with David Letterman.

“That was a great experience, I had a great time,” Dickey, who besides the interview, threw some pitches to Letterman who had a big catchers mitt, said. “He loves baseball, and he’s very happy about my success. He’s a big fan, and a very smart guy. That was a lot of fun.”

Like almost everyone else, Dickey watched the Olympics when he can.

He won a bronze medal for the U.S. in the 1996 Atlanta Games and was disappointed that baseball was eliminated as an Olympic sport. Dickey

“Yes, I’m a little sad about that,” he said. “But as players, we still have the [World Baseball Classic], which they have renewed for next year. The Olympics were special, but the WBC puts our sport in the international spotlight as well.”

Dickey has long gotten over his disappointment over not being the starter for the NL in last month’s all-star game. Selected for the first time in his career, he was the N.L.’s winningest pitcher at the time of the game but was the fifth pitcher to appear for that league.

“It’s an honor just to be chosen,” he said. “I’ll look back and know it was special just to have been able to pitch in that game. There are no bad choices in an all-star game. I was glad to be a part of it.”

Next he’d like to be a part of a team that participates in the postseason. A big part.