NEW YORK -- The legend of R.A. Dickey softened somewhat in the glow of Sunday's Subway Series limelight, in front of more fans than Citi Field had ever housed before. Many of them showed up in blue and orange, looking to watch Dickey chase history against CC Sabathia, in one of the premier pitching matchups this inter-borough rivalry has seen.
But as the matchup withered and Dickey's streak of consecutive innings without an earned run ended at 44 2/3, it became clear that this game held a different sort of importance to the Mets. This was playoff baseball in June. On a day when their three closest rivals in the National League East lost, on a night when they played their 22nd consecutive game against a plus-.500 team, the Mets -- either with Dickey the superhero or Dickey, mere mortal -- wanted a win in the worst way.
Instead, they took a 6-5 defeat in a game that, in the knuckleballer's words, "was billed as a pitchers' duel and turned into an MMA fight." In front of a national television audience, the Mets lost a chance to gain precious ground in the NL East while Dickey shed a tiny slice of his luster.
"It just shows you the human part," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It shows you as good as R.A.'s been, he is human."
Robinson Cano ultimately won the game for the Yankees with his solo home run in the eighth inning, exploiting manager Terry Collins' decision to squeeze a second inning out of reliever Miguel Batista. But it became clear that the Mets were not at their best five innings earlier, when Dickey's streak ended on two walks, a single and a sacrifice fly to Mark Teixeira.
What Dickey bemoaned most, however, happened next. Throwing one of an uncharacteristic number of flat, un-fluttering knuckleballs, Dickey served up a three-run home run to Nick Swisher on a shot that would not have cleared Citi Field's old dimensions, preventing the right-hander from recording a quality start for just the second time in 15 outings this season.
Dickey still lasted six innings and allowed five runs, holding one of the game's most potent offenses to just five hits. He still ranks first in the Major Leagues in victories, fifth in strikeouts and eighth in ERA, and is a near-lock to attend his first career All-Star Game at age 37. His streak without an earned run allowed was the second longest in franchise history, behind only Dwight Gooden's run of 49 innings in 1985.
But in his first start since throwing consecutive one-hitters against the Rays and Orioles, Dickey could not continue living up to impossible expectations.
"I've been throwing a good knuckleball," Dickey said. "I gave up five hits. I don't feel like I got beat around the park. I gave up one great swing. I didn't have a great knuckleball tonight, but I fought my butt off as hard as I could."
And so did the Mets, who took advantage of Cano's fielding error, Andres Torres' two-run single and Ruben Tejada's RBI hit to tie things against Sabathia in the sixth. So it went on a noisy, sometimes-rainy night at Citi Field, with both starting pitchers falling well short of what their teams -- and certainly their fans -- expected of them.
"It didn't quite live up to its billing," Dickey said. "But golly, I'm so proud of our guys. We scrapped and fought. We can build off that."
The Mets indeed made a run of it late, putting the tying run on third base with two outs in the eighth and recording yet another hit with two outs in the ninth. But the Yankees boast two strengths that the Mets do not: home run power and bullpen fortitude. Sunday, they used both to their advantage.
"They've got great power," a curt manager Terry Collins said after the game. "We don't seem to make pitches when we need to make them. They hit balls out of the ballparks like there's nothing to it."
That's no knock on the Mets, whose strengths lie in different areas. Coming into Sunday's play, for example, their rotation had recorded six consecutive quality starts. And Dickey had personally submitted 11 straight during of one of the most dominant runs by a knuckleballer in history -- if not the best. In addition to his scoreless streak, Dickey was 6-0 with a 0.18 ERA over his previous six starts, striking out 63 batters, walking five and allowing 21 hits over 48 2/3 innings.
"I never considered it perfect, but it was fun to be a part of history," Dickey said of his run. "When you can say you were a part of the pedigree of people that have come through this game -- I mean some big names -- it certainly makes for an enjoyable ride. My hope was to continue [it] tonight, and my focus was tonight. But [the streak] was nice."
Added Dickey: "I'm hoping to start another one."