With a wide gulf separating them from the top of the NL East, the New York Mets need R.A. Dickey pitching at the top of his game if they harbor any hopes of climbing back into contention.
Dickey's most recent outing was quite encouraging.
The Mets will hand the ball to the knuckleballer Friday in the opener of a three-game road series against the San Diego Padres .
Dickey (14-2, 2.83 ERA) was nearly unhittable for much of the season's first half and earned a spot on the All-Star team, but his knuckler fluttered back to earth as he went 1-1 with a 6.49 ERA in his first six appearances of July.
He returned to All-Star form Sunday at Arizona, allowing an unearned run and four hits while striking out eight through seven innings of work in a 5-1 victory.
Dickey pitched similarly well in a 2-0 home win over the Padres on May 27, striking out 10 and limiting San Diego to three hits in 7 1-3 innings.
"When you don't see it often, it's different," San Diego manager Bud Black told his team's official website after that contest. "You really can't simulate it or prepare for it in BP. He was throwing strikes and getting a lot of called strikes. He kept pumping the strike zone with the knuckleball. It was dancing."
Dickey has been dominant on the road all year, going 7-0 with a 1.75 ERA in his last eight starts away from home. His only road loss came on April 18 at Atlanta.
New York (52-54) was right in the mix for the NL East before dropping 15 of 18, but has gotten back on track by winning four of its last five games including three of four this week at West leader San Francisco. The slump took its toll, however, as the Mets now face a double-digit division deficit behind front-running Washington. It will take a similarly big comeback to capture a wild card."This is the same team that went on a massive skid and came in here and took three of four from a first-place team," outfielder Jason Bay said after Thursday's 9-1 rout of the Giants. "It is frustrating because it's there sometimes and it's not other times."
Bay drove in two runs Thursday, only his second multiple-RBI game this year.
San Diego (44-63) will attempt to cool off New York by giving the ball to Clayton Richard (7-11, 4.14).
The left-hander is 1-3 with a 5.91 ERA in his last five starts. He pitched effectively Sunday at Miami, allowing two runs over 5 1-3 innings, but the Padres went on to lose 5-4 in 10 innings.
Richard faced the Mets in New York in May 26, allowing four runs in six innings and getting charged with a 9-0 loss as Johan Santana pitched a four-hitter.
San Diego dropped three of four to NL-leading Cincinnati this week, including a 9-4 defeat in Thursday's finale.
Chase Headley was a bright spot in the series for the Padres, driving in six runs. He has hit safely in eight of his last nine games, batting .353 during that stretch.
The Padres dropped three of four to the Mets in May, scoring a total of one run in the final three games after tallying 11 to win the opener.
|New York Mets|
|July 31, 2012||Andres Torres||Day-to-Day||Strained right thumb|
|July 31, 2012||Jason Bay||Day-to-Day||Bruised left calf|
|July 21, 2012||Johan Santana||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|July 11, 2012||Dillon Gee||Day-to-Day||Bloot clot in right shoulder|
|July 08, 2012||Dillon Gee||15-Day DL||Blood clot in right shoulder|
|July 03, 2012||Kirk Nieuwenhuis||Day-to-Day||Bruised right hand|
|San Diego Padres|
|July 31, 2012||Yasmani Grandal||15-Day DL||Strained oblique|
|July 28, 2012||Joe Thatcher||Day-to-Day||Sore right knee|
|July 26, 2012||Joe Thatcher||15-Day DL||Right knee tendinitis|
|July 18, 2012||Cameron Maybin||Day-to-Day||Sore right wrist|
|July 04, 2012||Andrew Cashner||15-Day DL||Strained muscle in right side|
|June 21, 2012||Anthony Bass||60-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The San Diego Padres took very little and made it go a long way against R.A. Dickey and the New York Mets .
San Diego was limited to four hits by the knuckleballer, but Carlos Quentin scored the go-ahead run when he jarred the ball loose in a home-plate collision with catcher Josh Thole in the Padres' 3-1 win over the Mets on Friday night.
The Padres managed just one hit against Dickey (14-3) through the first six innings, but still escaped with a win.
"Early on, he had total control of the knuckleball," said Yonder Alonso , whose double helped Quentin score the go-ahead run. "I felt like he was throwing it for strikes when he wanted to, making guys chasing it. That was tough."
But Clayton Richard (8-11) held the Mets to one run and eight hits over seven-plus innings. The lefty also induced three double plays.
Huston Street got the final four outs for his 18th save in 18 chances.
When San Diego scored a run without a hit in the sixth to tie the game at 1, it set the stage for a two-run seventh.
Quentin reached on a one-out single in the seventh, and Dickey left a knuckleball up and over the plate to Alonso.
"I swung at it as soft as I could," Alonso said. "I just wanted to make contact, and I was able to find the gap."
Alonso sent a shot into right-center field, and right fielder Scott Hairston slid while trying to make the catch, but the ball bounced past him. Center fielder Andres Torres picked it up and threw it to second baseman Ronny Cedeno .
Cedeno's throw to Thole arrived well before Quentin, but the 6-foot-2, 235-pound outfielder lowered his left shoulder and barreled into Thole, knocking the ball free and giving the Padres a 2-1 lead. John Baker followed with an RBI single to stretch it to a two-run edge.
"Carlos went in there with intent to score," Padres manager Bud Black said.
Thole had the ball in his glove, but just didn't get it covered with his right hand.
"It's frustrating because the play at the plate was the ball game," Thole said. "It changed the whole dynamic of the game. I just didn't get my free hand on the ball. I was reaching for it. As I was getting to it, I got hit."
The Padres denied Dickey the chance for his 15th victory, which would have led the majors.
"It stings a little bit because we should have won this game," Dickey said. "That's a game everybody in here thought we should have won."
Dickey, who allowed three runs - two earned - walked three and struck out nine to take over the major-league lead from Washington's Stephen Strasburg with 158.
"I thought he was fine," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Dickey. "I thought he pitched a great game. We asked him to go a little bit farther than we usually do, but they weren't exactly hitting the ball hard."
New York, which had won four of five, is 5-4 on its season-high, 11-game West Coast trip.
David Wright led off the Mets' fourth with a walk, went to second on Hairston's single, and advanced to third on a fly out.
Cedeno followed with a high bouncer that Logan Forsythe fielded on the run behind second base. Forsythe tried to throw to shortstop Everth Cabrera for a force out on Hairston, but the throw went over Cabrera's head, allowing Wright to score.
San Diego tied it 1-1 when Cabrera led off the sixth with a walk, was sacrificed to second, stole third, and scored on Chris Denorfia 's sacrifice fly.
Dickey is tied with four other pitchers with a major-league best 14 wins.
Notes: Dickey lost on the road for the first time since April 18 at Atlanta. The righty is 8-2 in 11 road starts. ... New York activated right-handed closer Frank Francisco (left oblique strain) from the disabled list. The Mets placed LHP Tim Byrdak on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Aug. 2. ... Collins said RHP Johan Santana (right ankle sprain) is expected to make a minor league rehab start for Single-A Brooklyn on Sunday or Monday. ... Since May 21, the Padres have played 23 games at Petco Park and 42 on the road. ... The Padres designated starting RHP Kip Wells for assignment. ... Mets RHP Jeremy Hafner (1-4, 5.52 ERA) will face Padres RHP Edison Volquez (7-7, 3.51) on Saturday night.