NEW YORK -- On his way to the ballpark Tuesday, R.A Dickey called Tim Wakefield. The knuckleball fraternity is small in baseball. And with two of the remaining flutterball pitchers facing the same team in back-to-back games, Dickey sought some advice.
After all, Wakefield had shut out the Phillies for eight innings Sunday. And Dickey, the Mets righthander, asked Wakefield what his approach was.
"His only advice to me was that they were a free-swinging team, and I found that to be the case," Dickey said.
"They didn’t like to get very deep in counts," he continued. "They were swinging early in counts, and I thought I did a good job of proving I could throw it for strikes early in counts."
Dickey allowed seven hits and walked three over six innings. But he struck out seven -- tying a career high he last accomplished six years ago.
If there was any doubt the Phillies were in an offensive slump, well, we can put that to rest. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel refused to say facing two knuckleballers in a row contributed to the team's problems.
First baseman Ryan Howard thought otherwise.
"You’re used to seeing guys who have everyday stuff like a John Lackey," Howard said, referring to the last opposing starter the Phillies defeated. "But it’s very rare you see a guy who throws a knuckleball. We’ve seen two guys who throw one back to back. That’s even rarer. It’s kind of like a Halley’s Comet kind of deal."
True. The Phillies hadn't faced knuckleballers in back-to-back games since 1983.
And it also didn't help that the Boston and New York knucklers conspired together against the Phillies.
Dickey said his approach couldn't differ too much from Wakefield's. The Phillies knew they were going to see knuckleballs. Wakefield simply provided a few tips.
"He was telling me a couple fastball locations to some guys that he got some flyouts on," Dickey said. "But outside of that, it’s really just trusting that you have what it takes to execute when you need to execute. He reminded me of that, and it’s always encouraging."