R.A. Dickey's last few outings have been various stripes of disappointing, at least compared to the kind of starts he'd spoiled us with in the first half. It appeared at first that he'd regained his form tonight, as his knuckleball looked as effective as it has in many a moon, which was more remarkable considering he'd made a relief appearance over the weekend against the Dodgers. Dickey fanned the first two batters he faced and worked around a Ryan Zimmerman single in the first. In the second, he walked Adam LaRoche to start the frame, but struck out the next two batters and induced a popup.
He needed to be sharp, since he was pitching opposite Gio Gonzalez, who's enjoying a season that might not have Dickey's feel-good story but has some comparable numbers. Gonzalez needed just six pitches to take care of the Mets in the first, all on grounders (a theme that would continue). In the second, he saw Scott Hairston reach first on a Danny Espinosa throwing error, but Gonzalez struck out the next two batters. On Jason Bay's K, however, Hairston stole second, which put him in position to score when Ronny Cedeno hit a ball down the first base line.
Cedeno, either unaware or dismissive of Bryce Harper's arm, tried for two on the play and was thrown out by several football fields, but it still gave the Mets a lead. Would you believe it was the Mets' first lead of this homestand? If you've watched any of these games then yes, you would. You would also have assumed that lead wouldn't last.
Gifted a lead, Dickey retired the Nats in order in the top of the third, including his second strikeout of Harper. But after Gonzalez did the same in the bottom half, Zimmerman led off the fourth with a hit that dunked into the right field stands for a ground rule double. Dickey nearly escaped trouble with a pop out and a groundout, but neo-Met Killer Espinosa hit a two-out double past David Wright to tie things up at 1.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, kept inducing one weak grounder after another, and the Mets' batters aided his cause by swinging at nearly everything. The Nats' starter bested his low pitch total in the first by setting the Mets down five pitches in the fourth, and didn't have to work much harder in the fifth. Dickey crafted a harmless fifth and retired the first two men in the sixth (including Harper's third K of the game), but Michael Morse reached him for a two-out single. This is where the pitchers' duel ceased, and the fun.
Adam LaRoche hadn't looked good against Dickey up to this point, but that mattered little as he belted a two-run bomb into the Pepsi Porch. But t'was not over yet. Espinosa singled, and Roger Bernadina followed with a dribbler up the first base line that went for an infield hit, in part because Dickey failed to cover first as Ike Davis ran after the ball. Then, Jesus Flores hit a single to left, and Jason Bay heaved a throw to plate that was so bad it not only allowed Espinosa to score, but it skipped to the backstop, bringing in yet another run. When the dust settled, the Nats had scored four times and were up, 5-1.
The outcome of this game was purely academic from that point forward. The Mets made a feint of a stab of tease at a rally in the bottom of the seventh on an Ike Davis two-out single (only the second hit of the game) and a Jason Bay (yes, he is allowed to reach base), but Cedeno ground out to end what passed for a threat in this game. The bullpen poured no gasoline on the fire, as Manny Acosta, Josh Edgin, and Ramon Ramirez pitched scoreless ball in the seventh, eighth, and ninth respectively. (Though Edgin had to work around a single and a positively Duda-esque misplay by Hairston).
Gonzalez still had a decent pitch count at the conclusion of the seventh, but Davey Johnson still decided to yank him for the eighth in favor of Ryan Matheus. The Mets' bats had looked dead all night, but Johnson had not reckoned on the power of Jordany Valdespin, who started the inning by belting his fifth pinch-hit homer of the year, a new franchise record. But with the Valdespin gambit expended, there was no more magic left in the tank. Sean Burnett came on to retire the next three batters in a row, and Tyler Clippard barely broke a sweat to do the same in the ninth.
That handed Dickey his first loss in roughly nine years, and also places the Mets on the verge of a winless six-game homestand. That has not happened since 1999, when the Mets dropped two straight series against Arizona and Cincinnati. That was a very different team, though.
All is not lost though. Tomorrow, Jeremy Hefner faces Stephen Strasburg! Courage!
SB Nation Coverage
* Traditional Recap
* Amazin' Avenue Gamethread
* Federal Baseball Gamethread
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Ronny Cedeno, 4.1%, Jordany Valdespin, +4.0%
Big losers: R.A. Dickey, -26.6%, David Wright, -6.7%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Ronny Cedeno RBI single, bottom second, +8.4%
Teh sux0rest play: Adam LaRoche two-run homer, top sixth, -30.2%
Total pitcher WPA: -24.2%
Total batter WPA: -25.8%
GWRBI!: Adam LaRoche two-run homer, top sixth