R.A. Dickey records 20th win

NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey has the distinction of being the first player cut from major league camp by the New York Mets during spring training in 2010.

Now the knuckleballer is the first 20-game winner on a sub-.500 team since Roger Clemens with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997 and a legitimate National League Cy Young Award contender.

Pitching in the Mets' home finale at his own request, Dickey limited the Pittsburgh Pirates to three runs in 7 2/3 innings Thursday before departing with a three-run cushion. The Mets held on for a 6-5 win at Citi Field as Dickey improved to 20-6.

"It was as hard as it's ever been to not get emotional, that's for sure," Dickey said. "I mean, from the get-go, from the introductions to the last pitch."

Dickey, throwing his hard knuckler at about 78 mph, tied his career high with 13 strikeouts. The 37-year-old never had won more than 11 games in any previous season.

Dickey joined Tom Seaver (1969, '71, '72, '75), Jerry Koosman (1976), Dwight Gooden (1985), David Cone (1988) and Frank Viola (1990) as the only pitchers in franchise history to reach the 20-win milestone. He became the second in the majors to that mark this season, joining fellow Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals.

Dickey also became the first knuckleballer to win 20 games since Houston's Joe Niekro in 1980, according to STATS LLC.

The crowd of 31,506 -- the Mets offered $10 tickets to boost attendance for the matinee -- gave Dickey large ovations when he walked to the bullpen to warm up, when he came back to the dugout, when he took the mound and each time he batted. When he came out after walking Travis Snider in the eighth, he tipped his cap to the excited fans, exchanged high-fives with teammates in the dugout and took a seat on the bench.

"I don't know if I've ever attached a number to it," Dickey said. "It's just much more, for me, if I could just harness the moment and suck the marrow out of every second, then I've done what I want to do and I can be satisfied."

Jon Rauch, pitching on his 34th birthday, followed Dickey and allowed Alex Presley's two-run homer in the ninth. Bobby Parnell retired Josh Harrison on a groundout and Jose Tabata on a flyout for his fifth save.

The Mets will finish with a losing record, but it has been a bountiful season for personal milestones with the club. Not only did Dickey have the ninth 20-win season in franchise history and the first since Viola, Johan Santana tossed the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1 and David Wright became the franchise's career hits leader earlier this week.

"I want to get emotional, but it's hard because we've had the type of season that we've had," Dickey said. "A collaboration of individual accomplishments hopefully will equal a good season. So it's hard to really sink into it knowing the season could have went differently.

"But, at the same time, this moment I feel like transcends that in a way as far as the connection to the fans and how I feel with that whole thing and the support. I mean, to win 20 games is difficult and it's been a real grind a lot of times. It's like a big exhale."

Wright, who passed Ed Kranepool with his 1,419th career hit on Wednesday night, belted a three-run homer in the fifth inning Thursday, chasing Pirates starter Kevin Correia and staking the Mets to a 6-3 lead.

"We've had our struggles in the second half, but (Dickey) has been about as steady as you can be," Wright said. "To win 20 games, especially with the way offensively we've played a lot of the second half, that says a lot. We don't score much, but he makes it stick. To be able to give him some runs today when early on it didn't look like he had his best knuckleball meant a lot. It's the least that we could do for a guy who has picked us up a number of times."

As for Dickey's Cy Young candidacy, manager Terry Collins noted the right-hander had an extra hurdle in excelling this season because he plays for a losing team, as opposed to Gonzalez on the division-leading Nationals.

"No disrespect to Gio, but they're 25 games over .500," Collins said. "We're not."

Dickey has had an eventful year. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro before the season to raise money for the Bombay Teen Challenge, which helps victims of sexual slavery in India. He wrote a memoir that details the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a babysitter and another teenager while a child. And he is the subject of a recently released documentary highlighting the knuckleball.

Dickey also became a first-time All-Star this season at the age of 37, after floundering early in his career as a conventional pitcher.

"Really, growing up, you just want to compete," Dickey said. "And then, once you have the weaponry to compete, you want to be really good. And then, when you're really good, you want to be supernaturally good. And I think, for me, there's been this steady kind of metamorphosis from just surviving to being a craftsman. And then, ultimately, the hope is to be an artist with what you do. This year is kind of representative of that for me."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.