He won 20 games, 19 of them after tearing an abdominal muscle in his second outing of the year. That he didn’t win a 21st in his last start doesn’t detract one iota from the season he crafted.
Will Cy Young voters hold it against R.A. Dickey that he couldn’t add one final win to his total Tuesday night in Miami? Will he look a little less impressive if Clayton Kershaw (shorn of playoff possibilities) goes out today and strikes out ten Giants to take away from R.A. the one-third of the pitching triple crown he can tentatively claim? Dickey is second to the Dodger ace by 0.15 in ERA and trails a scratched Gio Gonzalez by one in victories. He’s also a bit behind Kershaw in WAR (5.4 to 5.8) and WHIP (1.05 to 1.03, with Matt Cain at 1.04).
But as total packages go — not even taking into account the pain management R.A. had to navigate, never mind that he did things with his primary pitch that nobody in baseball history had ever done — was there a better pitcher in the National League for the length and breadth of the season than R.A. Dickey? Was there anybody else you knew you could count on like you could count on Dickey again and again? And though we’re long overdue to add some major hardware to the Met display case, is a vote that goes against R.A. Dickey really going to make you think any less of what you saw out of him in 2012?
We know what we experienced with this gentleman from April to October, right down the last out wherein he pitched one more discomfort-riddled inning and extricated himself from one last jam. R.A., trailing 3-0, went to the dugout after six at 20-6, 230 K’s and a 2.73 ERA. The win column wouldn’t budge when the Mets didn’t score for him in the seventh, but they shooed away any possible R.A. L in the eighth when they did what teams generally do against Heath Bell. The Mets got the score to 3-3. They couldn’t do more than that, however, and eventually the Marlins — via a nostalgic Jose Reyes triple, a mystifying Jordany Valdespin vapor lock and a redemptive single from golden sombreroan Donovan Solano — skewered Collin McHugh in the eleventh and that was that for Game 161 .
It must be late as late can be in the season, because I have to admit I felt good for three Marlins even after the Mets lost: Reyes because I will always love watching that man triple provided it’s not going to cost a Met a 21st win (though I’d have preferred Jordany make with the relay throw to third); Solano because, geez, striking out four times in one game has to be misery incarnate; and Adam Greenberg because Greenberg stepping into the box and striking out once — swinging in the sixth — was uplifting for reasons that had nothing to do with R.A.’s numbers. Adam didn’t lay a bat on any of Dickey’s knucklers, but he got to try , and that’s all he or anybody who signed his One At Bat petition could ask for.
All I’ve asked for out of these undertalented Mets since it became apparent they weren’t really going to contend this year is a sharp effort, game after game. I don’t believe I saw it all that often from mid-July onward. It was instructive to listen to the blatantly honest Bobby Ojeda on Tuesday’s SNY pregame show explain what truly signifies the q-word: quitting. It’s not necessarily not running hard to first; “eyewash” Bobby O called that. The tipoff to the old lefty is when players mentally check out. You see it along the basepaths, Ojeda said, and you see it in the field, specifically when players don’t hit their cutoff men.
Ojeda was responding to a reel of highlights from Monday night’s typically dim second-half performance, strongly implying that not a few Mets had mentally checked out a few days before being permitted to do so physically. That kind of effort is depressing. Conversely, the moments when one witnesses relatively extraordinary effort are stimulating. Tuesday night, Scott Hairston gave that kind of effort in two consecutive plate appearances, each of them on high choppers to third. Both times I thought, “he’s not that fast, he won’t beat it out,” and both times he ran his ass off and beat the throws. The first time it resulted in the run that kept Dickey from taking the loss. The second time it prolonged a rally that ultimately didn’t go anywhere. The gratifying part was watching Hairston staying squarely checked in to a game that was very much up for grabs.
It was the fourth-place Mets and the fifth-place Marlins down at the very nub of the schedule, yet I found Hairston’s hustle, in isolation, as splendid an exhibition of baseball Tuesday night as any taking place in games where playoff races were being decided or extended.
Then, in the postgame, when the alibis usually float slow and methodically, there was more reason to admire a Met. Terry Collins and Dickey revealed the injury  that bothered R.A. all season yet didn’t hamper him in any tangible fashion. 20-6, 230, 2.73 (plus 5.4 and 1.05) tells you that much. And, oh yeah, Dickey will lead the league in innings pitched. Not innings pitched with a torn abdominal muscle. Innings pitched, period.
Geez…and I mean that in a good way.
Twenty-one wins might have made R.A.’s case just a tiny bit shinier to the writers who vote on the prizes, but I have to admit I’m fine with him landing precisely on 20 in the company of David Cone and Frank Viola, who, like Dickey, came to the Mets from American League outposts. The only pitchers who ever won more than 20 in a season for the franchise where pitching has tended to be 90 percent of the game were Tom Seaver thrice, Dwight Gooden and Jerry Koosman. Those are the three greatest starting pitchers the Mets have ever had. Each began as a Met and lasted at least a decade before becoming anything but a Met. For stubbornly sentimental reasons, I can live with Tom Terrific, Doctor K and Kooz enduring another offseason as the sole residents of a pantheon that demands “21 OR OVER” for admission. (For future fulfillment, however, I’d be overjoyed if Matt Harvey someday qualifies for membership in their exclusive enclave.)
Within the less ethereal, more immediate Metscape, Dickey and every last one of his acolytes would surely love to have his campaign certified by the first Cy Young awarded to a Met since Gooden received his in 1985. Of course we want to see R.A. accept accolades, if just to hear what words he’d use to describe the sensation. But this season was his season no matter what a bunch of ballots say, and his season was truly a Met season for the ages to all of us who rooted hard for him across every one of those 233.2 innings he threw.
Surely R.A.’s Thesaurus would tell him winning something as mundane as a plaque would be practically superfluous in evaluating what he accomplished in 2012. He won the hearts and minds of Mets fans forever. In our world, there is no higher honor.