The National League Cy Young race is like a crowded subway train this year with the likes of R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto all staking plausible claims to this major postseason honor.
On Sept. 27th, in his penultimate game of the year, R.A. Dickey authored an emphatic argument for his cause. The game was a microcosm of Dickey's season.
With each twisting delivery near Willets Point at the base of Flushing Bay, the befuddled Pittsburgh batsmen squinted at the bearded alchemist, envisioning that he channeled the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers into an amalgamation of three rivers from which they could not distinguish the baseball. The result was a season-high 13 strikeouts for Dickey.
Starling Marte, the Pittsburgh left fielder, and Pedro Alvarez, the third baseman, were particularly hopeless victims. Each whiffed three times, leaving the batter box with their heads shaking—harboring the foreboding sense of having lost another battle to the master illusionist.
Only the words of Herman Melville could give voice to their sense of doom upon stepping to the plate in their final at bats:
I saw the opening maw of hell
with endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell -
Oh, I was plunging to despair.
Clayton Kershaw had a fine season for the Dodgers, sporting a 2.53 ERA and 229 strikeouts. However, on a contending team, he could only eke out 14 victories.
Johnny Cueto had 19 victories and a 2.78 ERA for the Reds, but he was supported by a stellar Reds team that was in the playoff race all year and won its division. The Reds also boasted an excellent defense, showcasing Brandon Phillips, a magician at second base, and Drew Stubbs, who covers extensive terrain in center.
Cueto's game is all power, featuring primarily four-seam and two-seam fastballs, and a slider. He rarely throws a curveball. Aside from his back-turning delivery that pays homage to Luis Tiant, his game largely consists of throwing his speedball by hitters.
R.A. Dickey, by contrast, offered the poetry of Emily Dickinson to opposing batsmen:
Of mansions never quite disclosed
And never quite concealed,
The apparatus of the dark.
The biggest threat to Dickey is Gio Gonzalez, the 27-year-old southpaw of the Washington Nationals. Gonzalez won 21 games and lost eight for the division winning Nationals. He was awarded the Warren Spahn Award for the best left-handed pitcher in the majors.
However, Dickey surpassed Gonzalez in strikeouts as well as in ERA. Further, the Mets had a dreadful 74-88 record during the 2012 season, while Gonzalez's Nationals boasted a 98-64 record. Dickey's 20-6 record, 2.73 ERA and league leading 230 strikeouts were the only bright spot on Paumanok, the affectionate Native American name that Whitman fondly referred to his native island by.
If a reasonable judge views Dickey's and Gonzalez's seasons through the lens of the Mets' sour 2012 showing and the Nationals' consistent excellence and offensive support, Dickey's better record, outright consistent dominance in the face of having no margin of error, and league lead in strikeouts, such wise arbiter would find in favor of Dickey.
Still, given his humble and self-effacing nature, one can imagine that Dickey is channeling his internal Robert Frost while assessing his chances for MLB's top pitching award:
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's the barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass.
Dickey winning the NL Cy Young Award would enable Mets fans to enjoy a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary season. The words of Melville best describe their potential sentiment:
All they feel is this: 'tis glory,
A rapture sharp, though transitory,
Yet lasting in belaurelled story.
It now remains in the hands of the Cy Young voters to determine how R.A. Dickey's storybook 2012 ends—with a solid connection of the type batters rarely enjoyed against him this year or an emblematic whiff at a figment of the collective imaginations of Mets fans.