R.A. Dickey is already a best-selling co-author of an autobiography, a star of a documentary and a 20-game winner for a Mets team that finished under .500 for the fourth straight season.
Now Dickey can add Cy Young Award winner to his feel-good season as he became the first knuckleballer to win the honor by convincingly beating Clayton Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez.
“Man, I’m kind of speechless believe it or not in the moment; it’s a real honor,” Dickey told MLB Network. “Obviously being mentioned in the same breath as some of the greatest pitchers, not only in the history but this year — Clayton and Gio were both supernatural in the way they performed. I’ve had to hit against them and its ridiculous trying to pick up the ball on those guys. They gave everybody fits, so just being mentioned in the same breath is a real honor.”
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Dickey received 27 of 32 first-place votes for 209 points, while Kershaw received two first-place votes and 96 points. Gonzalez, who led the NL with 21 victories, received one first-place vote and 93 votes.
Dickey became the first Met to win since Dwight Gooden’s 24-4 season won him the award in 1985. He also joined Hall of Famer Tom Seaver who won the award in 1969, 1973 and 1975.
Dickey was the first pitcher from a losing team to win the award since Brandon Webb in 2006. He won by leading the league with five complete games, three shutouts, 233 innings and 230 strikeouts. He finished second behind Kershaw for the ERA title at 2.73 and was third in the league with a 1.05 WHIP and fourth in opponents batting average at .226.
Dickey came into this year with a 41-50 career record and failed stints with the Rangers, Mariners and Twins. The Mets took a chance on him in 2010, made him the first cut of spring training that year, but quickly promoted him after he retired 27 straight hitters in a one-hitter for Triple-A Buffalo.
In 2010, Dickey was 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA on an 83-loss team and in 2011, while pitching for an 85-loss team, he was 8-13 with a 3.28 ERA. But this year everything clicked even as the team faded in the second half.
The Mets surprised everybody by being six games over at the break as Dickey was 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 17 starts, highlighted by a 44-inning scoreless streak and consecutive one-hitters with at least 10 strikeouts. The Mets won just 28 times after the All-Star break, but Dickey remained consistent as he was 8-5 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
That led to the home finale at Citi Field where 31,000 fans watched Dickey strike out 13 Pirates for his 20th victory.
“Oh man, I should have said thank you to [the fans] right off the bat,” Dickey said. “Omar Minaya took a chance on me in 2010 and I was the first player cut out of camp that year. I was able to get a shot with those guys and I was able to seize an opportunity. I have a place in my heart that’s very sentimental to the New York Mets because they gave me a real opportunity. They believed in me when not a lot of other teams did and I’m thankful they gave me the platform to jump off of and really explore my craft in a way that I’ve been able to become who I’ve been able to become as a pitcher.
“So it’s special. It’s special to the New York Mets. It’s special for the New York Met fans. It gives us something to hang our hat on in an otherwise disappointing season. It just feels good all over.”
Unlike Tim Wakefield, whose knuckleball averaged around 65 mph, Dickey’s signature pitch averaged 77.1 mph last year and complimented a fastball and changeup that helped make him the Mets’ first 20-game winner since Frank Viola in 1990.
Other knuckleballers had similar success, as Phil Niekro won 300 games and reached the Hall of Fame but none earned a Cy Young. Niekro got one first-place vote in 1969, which prevented Seaver from winning unanimously.
Joe Niekro finished six points behind Cubs’ closer Bruce Sutter in the NL race in 1972 while Wilbur Wood finished second behind Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry in the AL race in 1972.
“For me this is an honor to be shared,” Dickey said. “It’s a great honor and I am not a self-made man by any stretch of the imagination. There have been countless people who have poured into me in a way that has changed my life, not only on the field but off, and a few of those men are some of the knuckleballers that have had incredible seasons that didn’t necessarily get acknowledged for their feats — Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough.”
While the effectiveness of the knuckleball swayed voting in the NL, power pitching factored into the AL race with David Price edging Justin Verlander by four points and beating Jered Weaver by 83 points.
Price won the award after finishing with 14 of 28 first-place votes, good for 153 points. Verlander failed to repeat, but still received 13 of 28 votes. It was the closest race in the AL since ballots permitted voting for more than one pitcher in 1970.
“It means a ton,” Price told MLB Network. “This is very humbling. My legs are shaking right now and I’m extremely happy.”
Price finished second in the race two years ago to Felix Hernandez, who won despite getting 13 victories. He did not get any votes after posting a 12-13 record in 2011, but this year was able to edge Verlander by leading the AL with a 2.56 ERA and tying Weaver with 20 victories.
While Verlander led the league in innings pitched, complete games and strikeouts and Weaver led in WHIP and opponents’ batting average, perhaps swaying the vote toward Price was his performance in the AL East and down the stretch.
Though the Rays finished third, Price was 10-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 16 starts against divisional opponents. That included a 5-1 record and a 1.98 ERA in eight starts against the Orioles and Yankees.
Besides pitching well against the teams finishing ahead of the Rays, he also pitched well against winning teams. Against teams with a winning record, he was 13-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 19 games.
Quality starts also may have swayed things for Price. Price went seven or more innings in 23 starts, allowed two earned runs or less in 23 starts and posted a 1.62 ERA in six no-decisions.
“I’m pumped right now,” Price said. “I know my emotions probably aren’t showing but my legs feel like noodles and I don’t think I can be any happier right now.”
Rounding out the first place votes in the NL was Johnny Cueto, who received one first-place vote. Also getting points were Craig Kimbrel (41 points), Matt Cain (22 points), Kyle Lohse (six points), Aroldis Chapman (one point) and Cole Hamels (one point).
In the AL the voting after Price, Verlander and Weaver was Hernandez (41 points), Fernando Rodney (38 points), Chris Sale (17 points), Jim Johnson (five points), Matt Harrison (two points) and Yu Darvish (one point).
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher for all your offseason news.