by Ronald Blum
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — R.A. Dickey became the first knuckleballer to win 20 games in more than three decades, tying his career-high with 13 strikeouts and leading the New York Mets over Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 Thursday behind David Wright’s tiebreaking, three-run homer.
|INJURED PIRATE—Pittsburgh Pirates Andrew McCutchen ducks a high pitch from New York Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey during the second inning of a baseball game at Citi Field in New York, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
A 37-year-old knuckleballer who had never won more than 11 games in any previous season, Dickey (20-6) overcame an outstanding, climbing catch by Travis Snider more than 2 feet above the right-field wall that robbed Mike Baxter of a tying home run in the second inning.
Dickey, throwing his hard knuckler at about 78 mph, fell behind 2-0 and 3-1. Former Texas teammate Rod Barajas doubled in a run and homered, but the Mets clawed back in their final home game of the season and took a 6-3 lead on Wright’s homer in the fifth and held on in a nervous ninth.
Dickey allowed three runs and eight hits in 7 2-3 innings, walking two and reaching double digits in strikeouts for the seventh time this season. He leads the NL with 222 Ks.
He is the first 20-game winner for the pitching-proud Mets since Frank Viola in 1990 and the first knuckleballer to accomplish the feat since Houston’s Joe Niekro in 1980, according to STATS LLC. Viola also reached 20 with a win over the Pirates.
The crowd of 31,506 — the Mets offered $10 tickets to boost attendance for the matinee — gave Dickey large ovations when he walked to the bullpen to warm up, when he came back to the dugout, when he took the mound and each time he batted. When he came out after walking Snider in the eighth, he tipped his cap to the excited fans, exchanged high-fives with teammates in the dugout and took a seat on the bench.
Jon Rauch, pitching on his 34th birthday, followed Dickey and allowed Alex Presley’s two-run homer in the ninth. Bobby Parnell retired Josh Harrison on a groundout and Jose Tabata on a flyout for his fifth save.
Pittsburgh, which led the NL Central at the All-Star break, lost for the 20th time in 26 games and dropped to 76-80. The Pirates must win five of their last six games — against Cincinnati and Atlanta — to avoid their 20th consecutive losing season. Pittsburgh’s streak of futility already is a record for North American major professional leagues.
Snider gave the Pirates a memory with one of the best defensive plays of the season. He dug his cleats into the chain-link fence, hooked his left arm on top of the wall in front of the Mo’s Zone seats, hoisted himself up and grabbed Baxter’s drive in the webbing of the glove on his right hand well about the 8-foot wall.
NL batting leader Andrew McCutchen left the game in the seventh inning with discomfort in left knee after attempting to make a diving catch.
McCutchen trapped a soft fly into short center by Daniel Murphy and threw to second to force Ruben Tejada, who began the play on first base and wasn’t sure whether the ball was caught. The Pirates star then was taken out of the game.
McCutchen was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, dropping his average to .332, just ahead of San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.331) and St. Louis’ Yadier Molina (.320).
Kevin Correia (11-11) gave up six runs and seven hits. Given a 3-1 lead, he allowed Scott Hairston’s RBI single in the fourth and Murphy’s tying single in the fifth before Wright hit an opposite-field drive to right for his 21st home run this season.
Barajas hit an opposite-field RBI double that hopped the right-field wall in the second, and Jordy Mercer following with a run-scoring infield single to Wright at third.
Ike Davis led off the bottom half with his 31st homer. Barajas boosted the lead to 3-1 when he homered on an 0-2 pitch in the fourth, a drive over the old 16-foot wall in left.
NOTES: The Mets drew 2,242,803 to Citi Field this year, down from 3.15 million in 2009, 2.56 million in 2010 and 2.35 million last year. This is the team’s lowest home attendance since 2.19 million at Shea Stadium in 2003. … Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez shaved off his mustache before the game in a charity fundraiser. … Pirates 2B Neil Walker missed his third straight game because of a lower back injury.