R.A. Dickey has entered another world

Last night in St. Petersburg, Florida, R.A. Dickey took the mound for the Mets needing to pitch seven shutout innings to match Jerry Koosman’s club record of 31.2 consecutive scoreless innings.

Not only did Dickey break Koosman’s record by pitching eight straight scoreless innings, but he only allowed a single hit in the entire game while striking out a career high 12 batters and leading the Mets to an easy 9-1 victory over the Rays.

In his last five starts (dating back to May 22), Dickey has pitched 39.2 innings while allowed only one earned run with 50 strikeouts and only three walks. The ridiculously dominant run has left the knuckleball thrower ranked third in the National League with a 2.20 ERA. He’s also ranked fourth in the NL in strikeouts with 90 and his 0.94 WHIP is second best.

With the All-Star Game in Kansas City less than a month away, it appears almost certain that Dickey will make the NL side. The only question is whether or not he is going to start the game. I’m guessing that honor will go to San Francisco’s Matt Cain, who just pitched a 14-strikeout perfect game last night against the Astros. The sterling performance now has Cain ranked above Dickey in all three of the categories mentioned above.

Even in the unlikely event that Cain falters between now and the All-Star break, he’s still probably going to get the start in the Midsummer Classic. That’s not only because of his historic moment last night but also because Dickey is better used as a change of pace from the other All-Star pitchers, who will almost all be throwing over 90 miles per hour.

Of course, the important thing here is that the Mets won their second straight game after a demoralizing weekend in the Bronx that had appeared to finally doom the Mets to a summer of scuffling mediocrity. While that indeed may be their ultimate fate, the Mets have once again delayed it with a pair of surprising results against Tampa Bay. With a combined score of 20-3, the two wins have pushed New York’s run differential all the way up to a semi-respectable -2.

That’s kind of scary, because it means the Mets may not actually be terrible. They might be an actual decent team instead of just a lousy team masquerading as one. Then again, that’s what we thought after the wins against St. Louis, so the whole cycle may end up repeating itself.

The Mets offense last night struck suddenly after being held down by David Price for the first four frames. With one out in the fifth, Ike Davis launched a double deep to right-center and Keith Hernandez chastised B.J. Upton for not going after it harder. Mike Nickeas followed with a line drive into center field that got Davis home for the first run of the game. After Omar Quintanilla struck out, Andres Torres surprised with a solid double to get Nickeas to third. Both runners would score when Daniel Murphy bounced a groundball between first and second base, and the score became 3-0.

The game got out of hand in the sixth, as the first six Mets to come to the plate all reached on base hits. All were singles except for Vinny Rottino’s double, and Price was gone after the first four hits. Burke Badenhop came on in relief and allowed the final two hits. When Torres finally broke up the parade by hitting into a double play, the score was 7-0 Mets and the game was pretty much settled.

Here’s a pretty cool quote from Rays first baseman Carlos Peña on what makes Dickey so impossible to hit when he’s in the zone.

“You chalk it up and erase this from your mind,” Carlos Peña said, “because you faced one of the toughest pitchers going right now. Usually when you see a curveball or see a slider, there’s a hump and the slider is supposed to come this way or there’s a hump and its slower or its bigger.

“With this, you have no idea what the ball is going to do. If it goes up, you think, OK, it’s gong to come down. But no, sometimes it would sail way up. Another one would go up and then it would dive straight down and hit the dirt. It’s like a roller coaster. That was amazing.”

Something has happened to Dickey this season that’s allowed him to be more in control of the knuckleball than ever before. In fact, he may be more in control of his knuckleball than anyone has ever been in control of a knuckleball.

Here’s the box score from last night. The Mets play a matinee today against Tampa. Johan Santana will try to bounce back from his horrid start against the Yanks, while Jeremy Hellikcson takes the mound for the Rays.

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