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The Sorkinesque Knuckleballer

Although R.A. Dickey continued to pitch like something out of a Wes Craven horror movie Saturday [1], he still talked afterwards like he was created by Aaron Sorkin [2]. Dickey spoke of “acute expectations,” “internal fortitude,” “conventional” pitching, a lack of “revelations,” things that “spiral” and things he needs to “arrest”. Classic R.A. in front of his locker. Nightmare on Dickey Street where the mound was concerned.

We love him for his silver tongue [3], but only because it’s attached somewhere deep within his Dickeyness to his right arm. Well, we used to love his right arm, but lately the affection has been diminished. Our R.A. romance hinges upon his being a character we can root for: bedevils batters then charms reporters. That’s the bargain.

He’s not living up to the half that counts in the standings.

Still, he’s highly listenable. He’s unconventional that way. We have acute expectations that he’ll speak from the brain and from the heart and from the perspective of someone who gave his team every chance to win. Against the Astros, we got only two out of three, and the one we missed is the one we can’t be without.

Dickey’s human. Highly human. So human as to seem too good to have been true in 2010, too human thus far to maintain that pace in 2011. And while one strains to cut him whatever slack is available for a 1-5, 5.08 ERA starter a quarter-way into the season, one was also disturbed to hear him amid his typically eloquent media session fall back on the excuse that he threw ground balls that got through, and if only we’d made some plays…

He stopped short of putting the onus on his infielders, but it took some nifty working of the brake pedal to not go that route. That’s a road taken by the (accomplished) veteran starting pitchers of relatively recent Met vintage who offered more alibis than outs as their careers wound down. They weren’t necessarily wrong to think, “I made my pitch, it just didn’t result in an out,” but they were crazy to even intimate it out loud. It’s bad form — just as bad as 1-5, 5.08.

If R.A. Dickey really were created by Aaron Sorkin, he’d also have a supporting cast created by Aaron Sorkin. I don’t mean a shortstop and a second baseman who would get to the balls that Dickey thought were gettable. Aaron Sorkin doesn’t write action flicks. He writes characters who offer sage counsel. He’d come up with somebody to give it straight to R.A.

• “Look, I don’t know anything about throwing a knuckleball, but we’re gonna have you sit with a guy who does. One of the Niekro brothers. Doesn’t matter which one. They both left their catchers with funny handshakes.”

• “Saying you had a good bullpen doesn’t make a lousy game any more palatable. You’re just calling attention to all the balls the other team hit into the bullpen.”

• “You can’t blame your fielders. You can’t blame bad luck. You can’t blame the wind or the humidity or the pull of the tides. They have a phrase for that in New York. It’s ‘T#m Gl@v!ne,’ and it’s not a compliment.”

• “Balls go through infields. Once you back up home plate, there’s nothing you can do about it except accept that as an irrefutable fact of baseball life, minimize the damage on the next pitch and volunteer to take the blame when somebody asks you about it. You’re from Tennessee. You people are supposed to love to volunteer.”

• “And if you’re really from Tennessee, could you maybe come off a little more like Andrew Jackson and a little less like Al Gore? At least until your earned run average drops by half a run?”

• “Your record isn’t materially better than Oliver Perez’s was when he started going to seed and everybody got mad at him for not going to Buffalo. You should be thankful you didn’t sign for half as much as him — and maybe that your accent’s southern instead of Spanish.”

• “You didn’t pitch any better than Dillon Gee did the night before. Dillon Gee is a 25-year-old from Cleburne, Texas, whose last name is an expression of wonderment. You don’t have that excuse.”

• “Stop naming your bats [4]. It was cute when you were striking people out. Now it’s just plain weird. If ‘43’ printed on the knob was good enough for Jim McAndrew, it’s good enough for you.”

• “You’re articulate, R.A., but that’s value-added. It’s not your actual value. Mets fans have each other if they want articulate. And you won’t want to hear them articulate what they’re thinking if your ERA exceeds the size of your vocabulary.”