Dickey, Cain and the Greatest Game(s) Ever Pitched

After R.A. Dickey completed his masterpiece against the Rays  last night — which would have been perfect were it not for David Wright’s yips at third base — I began to think: was this the best game ever pitched by a Mets hurler? It’s certainly right up there.

I would not designate Johan Santana’s recent no-hitter, as glorious as it was, with that honor because he walked five and was not as efficient with his pitches. And besides, he needed help from the umps. I know, I know. I am one hard-to- please Mets fan, but with all due respect to Johan and his gutsy, historic no-no, Dickey outdid him.

But did he outdo Tom Seaver, specifically on that night in July 1969 when he was nearly perfect against a Cubs team that boasted three Hall of Famers in the lineup. Or how about that afternoon in April of 1970 when Tom Terrific pitched a two-hitter and fanned 19 Padres, the last ten in succession (still a major league record)? Or Nolan Ryan’s 15-strikeout 1-hitter against the Phillies in April of 1970 (just three days before Seaver’s gem and, by the way, the second baseball game I ever attended)? 

It’s difficult enough when you start to compare players across generations, but when the argument turns to the relative greatness of individual achievements, such as a the quality of  a game pitched, then you’re walking a slippery slope in six-inch heels.  Opposing hitters, ballparks configurations, field conditions, weather, managerial moves, a catcher’s pitch management,  and health factors all play a factor in a pitcher’s performance and they are never equal when drawing comparisons.   It’s especially true when assessing Dickey’s performance last night because the guy does what so very few people on this planet have ever been able to even attempt: throw a knuckleball. He’s gets extra points for that. 12 K’s and zero walks last night. 58 K’s, 4 walks (that’s not a typo) in his last six starts. His command of the most difficult of pitches to master swings my vote in his favor. He tossed the finest game in the Mets’ 50-year history.

Which leads me to Cain, whose star was aligned with Dickey’s last night as he pitched the Giants’ first perfect game in their bi-coastal 128-year history. Imagine if Dickey and Cain were both perfect on the same day? I don’t get too excited about perfect games anymore but two in one night would impress even  a cynical, jaded soul like me. Cain’s 14-strikeout domination of the putrid Astros  – lowly as they may be – should not be diminished in the historical record.

That being said, the pundits on ESPN Radio this morning, Tim Kurkjian and Buster Olney, were raising Cain — to the status of (arguably) the Man Who Pitched the Best Game Ever. They were aided and abetted by Mike Greenberg, radio’s King of Hyperbole, but Olney took the bait. He swore by a Bill James algorithm that measures the dominance of a pitching performance and noted that Cain’s perfecto was tied with Sandy Koufax’s whitewashing of the Cubs in 1965 as the most dominant perfect game ever.  Look, any perfect game, especially one that includes 14 K’s gets automatically placed on the list of best pitched games in history. But aside from the fact that I don’t want to hear Matt Cain’s name uttered in the same sentence as Sandy Koufax, it’s really baseless to annoint any one game as the best of all time. Too many damn variables. Yes, it makes for great sports radio (then again, so do trade rumors, frat boy humor, and Alyssa Milano gossip), but it hardly settles any historical debates.

That being said, if I’m going to dive in the muck with these guys, I’ll submit Don Larsen’s perfect game as baseball’s alltime pitching performance. I know he didn’t throw like Koufax, or even Cain, but he did it in the freakin World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He gets several bonus points for that, despite what Bill James computer spits out.

And while I’m partaking of this false debate against my own advice, I will offer that Dickey’s game, although overshadowed by Cain’s in the headlines and eventually in the history books, should also rank as one of the best pitched games ever, not just in the annals of Mets baseball. He would have been perfect save for the brain cramp(s) of his third baseman, and again, he did it throwing a knuckleball — a foreign substance to even the best of pitchers.

That’s all I will say on the matter. I’d hate to tumble deeper and deeper in this rabbit hole.  Then again, maybe I’ll take up the matter again after the next perfect game is tossed — which should be in a month or two.

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