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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, June 23, 2012 at 8:21 PM

It’s been awhile since a major baseball story captured the imaginations of the nation as a whole. The arrival of Stephen Strasburg had that effect for a bit. But, then he had to endure a long injury layoff. Back during the steroid era the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run battle transcended the sport. Everyone kind of felt guilty about it a few years later.

What’s happening right now with R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets has a chance to become that kind of major story. In fact, that would have happened ALREADY except:

*Dickey is 37-years old, so he’s not a young phenom whose arrival anyone was anticipating…

*Dickey throws a knuckleball, which many see as a trick pitch rather than “real” baseball. Strasburg was a young flamethrower…and baseball fans tend to treat 100-mph strikeouts like NBA slam dunks. Dickey throws a butterfly at people.

*Dickey plays for the Mets, and nobody has taken the Mets seriously for a few years. In fact, the only reason Dickey got a chance is because the Mets weren’t giving themselves much of a chance and decided to take a shot on a knuckleballer. That’s generally the story for knuckleballers. Only desperate teams will take a flyer on a floater.

*Dickey DOESN’T play for the Yankees or Red Sox. And, if you don’t’ play for those teams, you’d better do something pretty amazing if you want ESPN to notice you or they’ll go back to talking about Derek Jeter’s most recent girlfriend, or Bobby Valentine’s latest flub.

Sunday brings a harmonic convergence. Dickey HAS been doing some amazing things…AND he pitches against the Yankees on ESPN in Sunday’s prime time finale to 2012 Interleague action.

Here’s the AMAZING that Dickey has accomplished in recent weeks.

*His last outing was a one-hit shutout where he had 13 strikeouts. Baltimore could barely get a bat on the ball. It looked like that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where the batter would swing three times at the same pitch and the umpire would yell “One, Two, Three Strikes Yer Out!”

*The prior outing was ALSO a one-hitter, with Tampa Bay scratching across an unearned run. Dickey had 12 strikeouts in that game. So, we’re looking at 18 innings, TWO hits, 0 earned runs, and 25 strikeouts in his last two games. Even flamethrowers can’t do that!

*The prior outing saw 7.1 scoreless innings against Washington with 8 strikeouts. So, we’re looking back at 25.1 innings vs. playoff contenders (!) with 0 earned runs allowed and 26 K’s.

*The prior game was another shutout, this time against St. Louis…a team with one of the best offenses in the National League this year (though their pitching has been a problem). Nine strikeouts in that one for Dickey.

*No, we’re not done yet. The prior game saw no earned runs allowed in 7.1 innings with 10 strikeouts vs. San Diego.

*To find an earned run, you have to go back more than a month to a strong outing vs. Pittsburgh where Dickey allowed just one in seven very strong innings against Pittsburgh.

Imagine if Nolan Ryan threw a knuckleball, then strung some of his best career games together over a month…and that’s what you’re talking about with Dickey right now. It’s just that the strikeouts are coming on a slower than normal flutterball rather than an impossible to see bullet.

Though, we should clarify that Dickey throws a “hard” knuckler. Recent studies have been done that show he’s most effective when it tops 78 mph. Knucklers are typically a bit slower than that…which gives batters time to at least react and make contact. What’s exciting here is that Dickey may have discovered/invented a new weapon that others can emulate. The hard knuckler has a lot of movement without a lot of reaction time. THAT’S why his strikeout counts are so high. And, that’s why he may be able to keep dominating the opposition through the rest of the season.

If you’re an oldtimer, the potential here seems similar to what we saw with Mark Fidrych back in the 1976 season. It’s not a perfect match because Fidrych was young rather than old, and he didn’t get many K’s. He was an extreme groundball pitcher that had a big year before an injury derailed his career. Within that big year though, he strung together long successful outings the way Dickey is now…including three different 11-inning victories. If Dickey can beat the Yankees tonight under the national spotlight, we could easily see a replay of the ’76 media phenomenon.

Dickey should be a huge story already given the back-to-back one-hitters. Now that basketball’s out of the way…and we’re in the window between debating LeBron James’ intestinal fortitude and Tim Tebow’s throwing mechanics…Dickey is poised to become this summer’s main event.

As handicappers, you need to watch this story very carefully. The market tends to give a lot of respect to flamethrowers, but very little respect to knucklers. Dickey is getting flamethrower results with a trick pitch that nobody respects…and it’s thrown Vegas for a loop. Dickey is facing C.C. Sabathia tonight. Think about how expensive Sabathia is on most occasions because of his strikeout prowess. Compare the stats of the two pitchers this year. Obviously, Dickey has been getting nowhere near that kind of respect even though he’s been more “overpowering” in terms of results.

Yet…you must also be open-minded about a reversal of fortune. Dickey’s hard knuckler is a relatively new development. He may fall back to earth quickly if:

*Hitters are able to make adjustments after seeing him a few times

*Hitters are able to be more patient and try to draw walks

*Dickey gets hurt (tough to stay healthy “on purpose”)

*Dickey wears down in the summer heat

A knuckleball isn’t typically a fatigue pitch. But, the way Dickey throws it might be. And, what’s shaping up as a hot summer in the Northeast could wear out a 37-year old body even if there aren’t any hangnails that get in the way.

This is going to be a fun story to monitor in the NOTEBOOK. And, it’s certainly something that offers up a lot of potential wagering value if you can stay head of the market as each new chapter plays itself out.

Yanks/Mets could definitely be part of JIM HURLEY’S Sunday card. But, there are a lot of great matchups on this final day of Interleague action. We’re also looking at Dodgers/Angels, Giants/A’s, Braves/Red Sox on TBS, and Rays/Phillies. You can purchase the best bets on the board a couple hours before first pitch right here at this website with you credit card. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. JIM HURLEY is going to send Interleague action off with a bang!

We’ll be back Monday to reset the divisional races for the resumption of the normal MLB schedules. It looks like we’re going to have some drama this year across both leagues with multiple contenders fighting for a handful of playoff spots. You can count on WALL-TO-WALL BASEBALL coverage the next few weeks…until we start up our annual college football conference previews in July. NFL preseason action arrives in August. Hey…football will be here before you know it so be sure to check on our early-bird rates!

R.A. Dickey will bring his hard knuckler to the mound to face the Yankees tonight. JIM HURLEY always brings the handicapping equivalent of brass knuckles when it’s time to beat the Vegas bookmakers. LET’S GO GET THE MONEY!

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