BOSTON – David Price reached the 100-win plateau over the weekend, needing the last seven seasons to reach the impressive milestone. On Tuesday, Toronto Blue Jays teammate R.A. Dickey looks to join him in the triple-digit victory club when he takes the mound against the Boston Red Sox, having endured a far more laborious path to the meaningful mark.
“I can tell you that it’s rewarding to think about winning 22 games from ages 22-35, and then the thought of winning 78 games from 35-40,” he says in an interview. “That to me is pretty special.”
Deservedly so for Dickey, who needed to reinvent himself as a knuckleballer after struggling as a conventional pitcher, eventually developing himself into a Cy Young Award winner. He went 16-18 with a 5.55 ERA before his conversion, then keeping at it when times were tough.
While the wins stat has been somewhat devalued in recent years as in a growing number of baseball circles a greater emphasis is placed on numbers directly within a pitcher’s control, there’s still great meaning in the century mark for Dickey.
“When you start to get to some round numbers, like 50, 100, 200, 250, it feels good because for me, it’s much more a measurement of consistency, and being steadfast in your performance. For me, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “I took a vow when I started becoming a knuckleballer and got some time in the big-leagues that the only thing I’d care about was how could I become a trustworthy component on a team, how can I put myself in a position from a performance standpoint so that the manager sees me as a trustworthy option.
“That’s what it measures for me. Perseverance, consistency and being trustworthy.”
A victory against the Red Sox would also push Dickey’s record above .500 for the first time this season, a remarkable rebound given that after a 2-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox on July 9, his record stood at 3-10 with a 4.87 ERA.
He’s 7-0 with a 2.78 ERA in 10 starts since that outing, lowering his ERA to 4.09 in 2015. A strong outing will get him back into the threes.
“It’s analogous to my 2011 season with the Mets,” says Dickey. “I was 8-13 and it took a strong finish for me to drop my ERA back down and things like that, so I compare it somewhat to that. The thing that goes unrecognized for everybody is that as competitors, when you’re not performing well, it’s painful, it’s hard. You have all these things that take away from your ability to hope and have faith that it’s going to get back to your career norms, and you have to be really focused and have a lot of faith – you know what you’re capable of – and a lot of confidence.
“Because when you’re 3-10 with a five and a half, it’s hard to look people in the eye and say, ‘Hey, just wait,’” he continues. “They laugh at you, and that’s OK, but I know that in my journey with the pitch, there are certain things that happen over the course of a season that I can control that will produce a good year, and if I just stay focused on those things, no matter what the results are saying in the present, eventually over the course of the 34 starts, it will end up where it should. My responsibility is to convey that to myself and continually put for the work I know I need to in order to be consistent.”
A low point for Dickey this season came May 15 at Houston, when the Astros knocked him around for seven runs on 10 hits in five innings. It was after that outing that pitching coach Pete Walker helped him identify a mechanical flaw related to his path to the plate that helped spur the turnaround.
Still, the adjustments took a while to take, and even when he pitched well, he usually ended up either with a no-decision or as a hard-luck loser due to a lack of run support.
The lack of results can sometimes cause athletes to abandon their process and erode confidence, something Dickey actively worked to avoid.
“There are all kinds of little mechanisms that you can do to help maintain that self-belief,” he explains. “For me, for instance, I’ll go back and watch games that I’ve pitched that are good games and remember that, ‘Hey, that’s you, too. Yeah, you gave up five in five innings to the Phillies, but look at what you did to the Indians. You’re the same guy.’ If you can consistently do that, you don’t go too far down the rabbit hole, because it’s easy to get depressed in this game, you’re in the public eye, you’re failing and a lot of people aren’t believing in you. It’s a very difficult thing to do, so you need all the encouragement you can get. I’ve had teammates come up to me and really encourage me, coaches encourage me – you need that. That’s why we’re a team, and those things really help you remain steadfast in your own belief that you have something to offer.
“I can’t say enough about how important it is to continue to work, always working toward what you know you are. … If you can do that, over the course of the year, it’s going to end up the way it should.”