(AP) Knuckler Dickey says WBC role a great privilege
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
Many big-name pitchers found reason to say no to the World Baseball Classic. R.A. Dickey was an automatic yes.
The knuckleball master, winner of the NL Cy Young Award with the New York Mets last season now plying his unorthodox trade with Toronto, made it known before anyone asked him that he wished to play.
Now he will start for the United States in its WBC opener Friday night against Mexico, something he calls “one of the greater privileges of my athletic career.”
At 38, Dickey is the oldest player on the U. S. roster. As such, he remembers being a part of the U.S. team at the 1996 Olympics and wants to atone for the disappointment of that bronze medal of 17 years ago.
Needless to say, manager Joe Torre wanted him.
Dickey is one of three starting pitchers on the 28-man U.S. roster competing in Group D in Arizona and by far the biggest name. San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong will start Saturday night against Italy, with Texas’ Derek Holland going against Canada on Sunday.
Following round robin play, the top two teams advance to the second round next week in Florida. There, a fourth starter, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez will join the fray.
Under WBC rules, to keep pitchers on their normal spring training regimen, starters are limited to 65 pitches in the first round. With his knuckleball already in top form, Dickey figures that will be enough to make an impact against a Mexican lineup that surely has little experience against a knuckleball pitcher, let alone one with the proficiency that Dickey has developed.
Then Torre will turn things over to the cadre of 10 relievers he has on hand.
Dickey’s WBC appearance is the latest in a remarkable evolution to the right-hander’s career.
Last season with the Mets, he went 20-6 with a 2.32 ERA, becoming the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young Award. Dickey led the National League in strikeouts (230) and shutouts (three).
Torre said that if Dickey has his knuckler going well, there’s little opposing hitters can do.
Dickey brought along the man who will have to try to catch the most difficult of pitches to handle, Toronto teammate J.P. Arencibia.
Still, he said, catching his pitch “is a challenge.”
Torre has taken a different route in building a team. Instead of loading it with a couple of superstar-caliber players at every position, he has a basic starting lineup with two utility infielders and one extra outfielder. Dickey likes that approach.
It says something about Dickey’s makeup that one of his main motivations for being on the WBC team is the Olympic failure of that U.S. team in Atlanta 17 years ago.
Asked to share some thoughts on that Olympic experience, he said, “regretfully I think the thing that stands out the most is coming up short.”
But it wasn’t the gold medal.
The Olympics, he said, “was really bittersweet in the sense that I was hoping to play Cuba and beat Cuba for a gold medal, and we never even got to the game. So it was tough. And this is a chance to redeem that in some way.”