It was pure joy watching the Mets beat the Tigers on Wednesday night. It wasn't because the Mets are a favorite team. The opposite is probably more true. It wasn't a joy because the Tigers lost. Leyland is the type of manager you root for and Cabrera is always a pleasure to watch. No, it was a joy watching R. A. Dickey pitch so well and because Jose Reyes plays with such exuberance that it's impossible not to smile with him when he plays.
Let's start with R. A. Dickey. His eight innings of shut-out ball improved his record this year to 6-0 in seven starts. His first start was a no decision. Dickey is 36 years old. He was a first round draft pick by the Texas Rangers way back in 1996 after he was one of the best college pitchers ever at Tennessee. Dickey bounced around in the minors a while and got a brief look by the Rangers in 2001. It didn't go well. Dickey then made the roster in 2003 and made 13 starts among 38 total appearances. His stats were a mixed bag. His K/BB ratio was decent but he gave up too many homers and too many hits and ended the season with 5.09 ERA despite his 9-8 record.
He steadily got worse after that and fell back to the minors and was up and down for several years. According to interviews, it was during that time that he simply realized that he wasn't going to be good enough to make it with his stuff. So he turned to the knuckleball. While committing to that pitch he left the Texas organization and went to Seattle after not pitching at all in the majors in 2007. His 2008 year in Seattle wasn't very good either and he finished with an ERA over 5.00 and still gave up a lot of homers.
He then pitched for the Twins in 2009 and except for one game, pitched all of his 35 appearances in relief. For the first time in his career, he finished with an ERA below 5. Granted, 4.62 wasn't a great ERA nor was a 1.62 WHIP very good. But it was progress. This year, the Mets gave him a chance and he opened the season in the minors. But with the mess that was the Mets' rotation (Perez, Maine to name two), Dickey got his chance and has really come through. His years devoted to becoming a knuckleball pitcher have paid off and Wednesday night's performance brought his ERA down to 2.33 and his WHIP down to 1.29. Yeah, he still gives up quite a few base runners. But he's been around long enough that he doesn't panic and it all seems to work out.
Dickey pitches like a man who is glad to finally have a chance to shine after all those years of futility. His story is a remarkable one and an inspiring one.
Jose Reyes is one of those tantalizing talents. He's either very good or his play is problematic. It's hard to forget the terrible slump he had in September of 2007 and 2008 that allowed the Phillies to catch and pass the Mets for the division titles. His career 101 OPS+ does not speak to sustained brilliance. "Consistent" isn't a moniker you would hang on Reyes. He is a lead off man who has a career OBP of .336. But he's already hit 78 triples in his career and has stolen 319 bases. When he is on his game, he's one of the most exciting players in baseball. When he's struggling, he really struggles.
But Wednesday night was a good night. he had three hits including a triple, a single and a homer. He also made a far ranging play behind second base that few shortstops could make. You could tell that Reyes was having a ball. His smile was huge, his actions emphatic and that is what makes Jose Reyes such a transcendent player despite his inconsistency. When he has fun, David Wright has fun too. To see Wright smile as he interacted with Reyes is a stark contrast to the grim reaper-look Wright carried all of last year. That's what Reyes brings to the Mets and to baseball.
And that's why our sport is such a joy to follow. This hasn't been a good week. It's been a week of bad news and stressful situations. But baseball can entertain us in such a way that for a few hours each day, those things can melt away. All the Fan can say is a great big thank you to guys like R. A. Dickey and to Jose Reyes.