R.A. Dickey became the first knuckleballer to win 20 games in more than three decades, tying his career-high with 13 strikeouts and leading the New York Mets over Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 Thursday behind David Wright’s tiebreaking, three-run homer in the fifth inning.
A 37-year-old knuckleballer who had never won more than 11 games in any previous season, Dickey (20-6) overcame an outstanding, climbing catch by Travis Snider more than 2 feet above the right-field wall that robbed Mike Baxter of a tying home run in the second inning.
Dickey, throwing his hard knuckler at about 78 mph, fell behind 2-0 and 3-1 as former Texas teammate Rod Barajas doubled in a run and homered. But the Mets clawed back in their final home game of the season, took a 6-3 lead on Wright’s homer in the fifth and held on in a nervous ninth.
Dickey allowed three runs and eight hits in 7 2-3 innings, walking two and reaching double digits in strikeouts for the seventh time this season. He leads the NL with 222 Ks.
He is the first 20-game winner for the pitching-proud Mets since Frank Viola in 1990 and the first knuckleballer to accomplish the feat since Houston’s Joe Niekro in 1980, according to STATS LLC. Viola, coincidentally, also reached 20 with a 6-3 win over the Pirates.
The crowd of 31,506 – the Mets offered $10 tickets to boost attendance for the matinee – gave Dickey large ovations when he walked to the bullpen to warm up, when he came back to the dugout, when he took the mound and each time he batted. When he came out after walking Snider in the eighth, he tipped his cap to the excited fans, exchanged high-fives with teammates in the dugout and took a seat on the bench.
Jon Rauch, pitching on his 34th birthday, followed Dickey and allowed Alex Presley‘s two-run homer in the ninth. Bobby Parnell retired Josh Harrison on a groundout and Jose Tabata on a flyout for his fifth save.
Pittsburgh, which led the NL Central at the All-Star break, lost for the 20th time in 26 games and dropped to 76-80. The Pirates must win five of their last six games – against Cincinnati and Atlanta – to avoid their 20th consecutive losing season. Pittsburgh’s streak of futility already is a record for North American major professional leagues.