Los Angeles Dodgers 4, New York Mets 2
NEW YORK -- If R.A. Dickey experienced a rebirth for the Mets last season, he's currently moving through a difficult maturation.
The 36-year-old has been stuck in neutral since earning a win in his season debut, and he provided another uneven outing Sunday, when he completed seven innings but took the decision in a 4-2 loss to the Dodgers.
Dickey kept the game close, but the Dodgers (16-19) scratched out runs in the third and fourth innings to push ahead. The right-hander assumed the burden of pitching deep into the game to save New York's beleaguered bullpen, and the Dodgers pulled away for good with a two-run home run by Andre Ethier in the seventh.
Prior to that homer, the two teams had been separated by one run or less for the entire afternoon as Dickey matched Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
Dickey, who allowed a season-high 10 hits, said the outing was a replay of his past few starts.
"Today, I think I gave up nine singles and a home run late in the game," Dickey said. "Against San Francisco last outing, same thing. ... I have to always weigh the ways I'm giving up runs, and I can't be too disappointed. I had a fairly good knuckleball today, and I kept us in it against one of the best pitchers in the National League."
Dickey (1-4) entered last season as an unassuming candidate for a rotation slot, a status best evidenced by his 22-28 record with a 5.43 career ERA to that point. He demonstrated improved command of his knuckleball, though, and after beginning the season with Triple-A Buffalo, Dickey was promoted to the Majors in May and wound up winning six of his first seven starts.
The right-hander endured a six-start winless streak in late June and early July, but he finished strong enough to give the Mets hope for the future. The Mets (15-19) inked Dickey to a lucrative two-year deal, and he's struggled to provide an immediate return on investment. Dickey, in fact, has allowed two earned runs or less in just two of his first seven starts.
Still, at this point of the season, the veteran prefers to look at the positives. Dickey has completed at least six innings in all but one of his starts this season, and he said Sunday that his luck is bound to turn sooner or later.
"I don't know how many [hard-hit] balls I gave up today, outside of the home run. I can count them on one hand, I know that," said Dickey. "If they were covering balls and ripping balls in the gap, it would be a different story. But the last three or four outings, that hasn't been the case. I'm confident, having been on the other side of the coin, that things are going to turn."
The Mets gave Dickey help in the form of an early lead Sunday, but it took some help from Kershaw (4-3), who issued one-out walks to both Justin Turner and David Wright before Ronny Paulino came through with a two-out hit to score the game's first run. The Mets went 1-for-9 with men in scoring position.
Los Angeles came close to breaking things open in the fifth inning, when it notched three consecutive singles to load the bases and bring up cleanup hitter Matt Kemp. Dickey defused that threat by coaxing Kemp to tap back to the mound for a 1-2-3 double play, and Juan Uribe grounded out to end the inning.
Ethier, who snapped his 30-game hit streak Saturday, clubbed his fourth homer of the season in the seventh inning. Dickey had one out and a runner on base at that point, and he threw a pitch that didn't break to Ethier.
"Mistakes are mistakes. You don't make them," said manager Terry Collins. "And if you do make them, you hope they hit them right at somebody. When you've got the Ethiers and the Kemps -- those kind of guys -- out there, sometimes they're going to get a hold of a mistake. And they did. And they hit it right. It was the other two runs that were the tough ones."
Dickey helped the Dodgers to their first rally in the third by hitting Kershaw with an errant knuckleball, and the pitcher moved to second base on a passed ball charged to Paulino. The Dodgers scored Kershaw on a ground-ball single, and in the next inning, Los Angeles took the lead when catcher Rod Barajas narrowly beat out a potential double-play ball.
In the aftermath, Dickey said that those two runs frustrated him more than the back-breaking home run. The knuckleball that hit Kershaw started as a strike, Dickey said, before veering toward the batter.
"That's the funny thing about the pitch. It can be capricious sometimes," said Dickey. "He had committed a little bit, so he couldn't get out of the way, and it hit him in the shoe."
Such is the fate of the knuckleballer, he said.
"It's frustrating, but at the same time, it's part of negotiating what you do for a living. I throw knuckleballs for a living, so that's one of the things I have to take into consideration."
New York, which won the first two games of the series, made things interesting by loading the bases with two outs in the seventh. That brought Jason Bay up against reliever Kenley Jansen, a confrontation that ended in a lazy fly ball. Jose Reyes tripled in a run with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but he was stranded at third.
"I see a guy who just loves to play, gets caught up in all the big situations and plays with tremendous passion and enthusiasm," Collins said of Reyes. "I'll tell you, it's been amazing to watch him. If I was a fan, I'd make sure I'd get to see him play."
Los Angeles snapped a six-game skid on Sunday, giving manager Don Mattingly cause to celebrate.
"Yeah, we needed it," said Mattingly. "I was a little nervous leaving the bases loaded with nobody out [in the fifth]. Usually, that comes back to haunt you. Ethier gave us a little cushion."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.