Dickey cements standing among elite

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- New York Mets catcher Mike Nickeas profusely apologized to R.A. Dickey after the knuckleballer's scoreless streak ended at a franchise-record 32 2/3 innings.

Nickeas, it turned out, was not even apologizing for the correct thing.

After the Mets had beaten the Tampa Bay Rays, 9-1, on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, Nickeas revealed he had no clue Dickey entered the game with a chance to pass Jerry Koosman's franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings. Nickeas insisted his expression of remorse after the ninth-inning run had crossed the plate stemmed only from Dickey losing a shutout bid.

"I'm glad nobody told me," Nickeas said.

By the time Elliot Johnson reached base in the ninth inning on third baseman David Wright's throwing error, advanced two bases on passed balls by Nickeas and scored on Desmond Jennings' groundout, Dickey already had passed Koosman's Mets-record 31 2/3-inning scoreless streak anyway.

The knuckleballer also already had reinforced his standing as one of the game's elite pitchers and a virtual lock to represent the National League in the All-Star Game in Kansas City on July 10.

Dickey and St. Louis' Lance Lynn both claimed their 10th wins Wednesday night.

Dickey retired 22 straight Rays between a first-inning infield single by B.J. Upton (or error by Wright on a missed barehand attempt) and the throwing error by Wright that allowed Johnson to reach in the final frame.

The Mets will appeal the first-inning scoring decision, trying to get Wright charged with an error and hand Dickey a no-hitter. But they uniformly conceded that attempt is a long shot.

Afterward, manager Terry Collins' thoughts drifted to spring training two years ago, when Collins was overseeing the organization's farm system and Dickey was the first cut in big league camp.

"We're two plays from a perfect game," Collins said about Wednesday night's game. "I've seen a lot of things. I've not seen a perfecto. Today I saw as close to that as I've ever been around in my 42 years. It's amazing. It's truly amazing what he's done.

"To think, two years ago this guy was the first guy cut from this club, to where he's at today, I mean I absolutely salute the guy. Right now, when you look at what he's done and what he's accomplished and the way he's pitching right now, you've got to think this guy is one of the top three or four or five pitchers in baseball at this particular moment. It's truly amazing."

"I wouldn't say heartbreaking," Dickey said about his scoreless streak ending. "You have a hope that you can keep going with it, certainly, if you're pitching well. It's just kind of funny the way that it ended. It's a good opportunity to start another one."

As for Wright arguably costing Dickey the no-hitter in the first inning -- albeit on an extremely tough play -- and then putting the runner on base in the ninth that ultimately ended the scoreless streak, Dickey said: "I might kid David tomorrow about it, but not right now."

Said Nickeas about his passed-ball role in missing the knuckleballs: "I'm running out of ways to describe how difficult it is. It is really tough. It's not that [fellow catcher] Josh [Thole] and I are whining about it. We want him to be tough, because those are the days he's really, really good. We'll wear it for him. I hope he continues to get better, and we continue to struggle with it."

"He was apologizing profusely at the end of the game," Dickey said about Nickeas. "It's hard back there, especially when it was moving like it was tonight. It was moving quite a bit, and very late. He had done a great job all night. It was just that last inning that kind of got away from him a little bit."

Dickey said this game reminded him of an outing two seasons ago against the Phillies, when he also had a one-hitter, with opposing pitcher Cole Hamels getting the hit.

He threw only three fastballs the entire game this time. He walked no one, a remarkable feat for a knuckleball pitcher -- although, Dickey noted, he has more control of the pitch than knuckleball predecessors Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough, because he throws the pitch harder so it's more likely to be in the strike zone and not subject to massive movements.

Dickey, who this year has been the subject of a documentary, published his memoirs and may see that autobiography turned into a movie, said he cannot help but allow himself to think about what's next.

"I don't think I would be credible if I sat here and said that I didn't think about being in the All-Star Game or the chance at being the best pitcher in the big leagues," Dickey said. "I just wouldn't be credible. Of course it creeps into my mind from time to time. And that's the honest answer. It's a motivator. I do want to be the best.

"It's nice, because I've been on the other side of the coin, too. And so my perspective is one in which I want to celebrate it a little bit."