The game was billed as a showdown between two All Star pitchers, the Mets’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and the Phillies’ Cole Hamels—but Hamels was little off, and Dickey was close to a disaster, giving up a career high of 11 hits and 5 runs in 7 innings. Not, in other words, the Dickey we’ve been seeing—who just had one of the best months of any pitcher in baseball history: 5–0 for June, with a 0.93 ERA and the first back-to-back one-hitters in 25 years.
In the event, for the second time in three starts, his teammates’ heroics in the ninth brought a win for the Mets’ reliever and saved Dickey from recording what would have been his first loss since April 13. So he goes into the all-star break with a 12–1 record for the season so far.
Maybe this is the end of Dickey’s great run; knuckleballers, beyond all other pitchers, show such a strong reversion to the mean. It’s as impressive an application of statistics as you’re ever likely to find. Sometimes they pitch great games, and sometimes they pitch horrible games. Inning by inning it changes. Year by year, as well, and they all end their careers somewhere around .500.
But you have to love R.A. Dickey’s story—a three-ring circus among the New York media around the Mets’ Number 43. For one thing, the man is a more visible evangelical Christian than just about anybody in sports short of Tim Tebow (also now in New York, playing football for the Jets; curious to think of both those men in our modern Babylon). Of course, faith had a different entry point for Dickey. Introibo ad altare Dei, as the Tridentine antiphon expressed it, ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam: “I shall go unto the altar of God—to the God who gives joy to my youth.” In his marvelously naive and mystical way, Tebow walked in through the door of young joy. Dickey came to God through the more painful—and more common—door of adversity.
If you want to read more of Dickey’s story—of how, after a semi-suicide attempt, he gave his arm over to the knuckleball and his life over to Jesus—Amazon is featuring today on its Kindle Singles page my essay-length e-book single The Summer of 43: R.A. Dickey’s Knuckleball and the Redemption of America’s Game.
I’m not sure when the editors for the Kindle Singles elected me their go-to guy for any story about the intersection of sports and religion, but it’s fun to write on these topics: first Tebow and now Dickey. And the thesis is one I think I’m right to hold: “A fastball is a power pitch. A curveball is an artist’s pitch. And a knuckleball—ah, yes, a knuckleball is a pitch of faith.”
Along the way, R.A. Dickey is showing us the 2012 redemption of baseball from the Days of Steroids: the era in which the game went brazen mad and lost itself in a noonday sin. If you haven’t been aware of Dickey’s story—and, even more, if you haven’t watched him pitch, throwing his fluttering knuckleball past the hitters of the National League—now’s the time to start. It’s like watching faith on the fly.
Besides, it’s a relief from politics.