New York Mets: It's Time for Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to Knuckle Up

James Stewart-Meudt@@JSMeudtCorrespondent IIMay 20, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08:  Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey #43 of the New York Mets walks towards the dugout against the Washington Nationals during the Mets' Home Opener at Citi Field on April 8, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens in New York City. The Nationals won 6-2.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

At the start of this season, it was hard to imagine anything going the Mets' way. Yet so much had to if they were going to contend.

From top to bottom, this was a team of "ifs."

IF they could stay healthy.

IF Jason Bay bounced back.

IF fans came out to watch.

With Johan Santana out of commission until at least early July, the starting rotation was perhaps the biggest "if" of the all.

Without Santana, Mike Pelfrey was left as the de facto ace. Jon Niese would have his workload increased for the second straight season, and reclamation projects Chris Young and Chris Capuano would have to prove they still had it.

Young couldn't get out of May before his season ended because of injury, and Pelfrey has proven what we already knew--he's not a No. 1 starter.

But of all the questions facing the Mets, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was not one of them.

For as cash-strapped as the Mets were this offseason, Dickey was the only player they worthy of a multi-year contract. Not Angel Pagan. Not Ike Davis. It was the 36-year-old Dickey.

After going 11-9 with a team-best 2.84 ERA last season and setting career highs in innings (174.1) and strikeouts (104), the Mets signed Dickey to a two-year, $7.8 million contract.

The Mets also hold a $5 million third-year option with a $300,000 buy out.

The contract was Dickey's first big payday of his career.

It must seem like A-Rod money to a guy who saw his signing bonus shrink from $810,000 to $75,000 after he was drafted in the first round of the 1996 draft by the Texas Rangers. After the draft, Dickey was found to lack a ligament in his right arm after a team doctor saw his arm hanging oddly in a picture.

Talk about bad luck.

But 16 years later, Dickey finally got what he's been looking for.

After their dealings with Bernie Madoff though, you'd think the Mets would've learned something about investing in questionable situations.

How in the world could Dickey duplicate such a fantastic season or, dare they dream, improve on it?

Well, so far it seems he can't.

Dickey is now 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA. He hasn't won a game since his first start of the season on April 3, and now he'll get his first taste of the Subway Series tonight in Game 1 against the New York Yankees.

Everywhere you look, Dickey is struggling. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up and he's allowed four or more earned runs in three of his last five starts.

The Yankees? Well they just finished scoring 13 runs against the Baltimore Orioles Thursday night at Camden Yards. They must be salivating at the thought of Dickey and his 83 mph fastball.

I think Robinson Cano will probably have a bib on tonight in his first at-bat.

The biggest worry for the Mets?

When is Dickey going to accept his struggles and take a little help?

There's no relief coming from pitching coach Dan Warthen. After all, Dickey's knuckleball is so hit or miss there's simply no way to perfect it. Maybe the Mets should find out what Doug Mirabelli is doing these days.

Terry Collins has tried to bring in former big league knuckleballers to talk to Dickey, but so far, Dickey has turned down their advice.

So here we are.

The Mets have a chance to be over .500 for the first time since they were 4-4 on April 9, and against the Yankees of all teams.

They'll have to do it without David Wright and Ike Davis and with three quarters of their infield comprised of Triple-A players.

But Dickey can set the tone tonight with a solid start.

Now is the time for Dickey to show the Mets they weren't wrong this offseason. There were certainly better ways for the Mets to spend this money, but they gave what little they had to Dickey.

Not signing him would've left Dickey a free agent after this season, but unless Dickey had another stupendous season, how much competition would there be for his services?

It wasn't worth the risk for the Mets, and now Dickey has a monumental task ahead of him: Keep the Mets on their winning path while simultaneously keeping the best offense in the AL East at bay.

He'll try to do that tonight at Yankee Stadium.