ARLINGTON -- There was nothing personal against the team he was facing on Thursday night that got the juices flowing for Mariners right-hander R.A. Dickey. What he wanted most was to get back at the place that put him in the Major League record book. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington had a different name on April 6, 2006, but the dimensions are the same now as they were back then, when he surrendered six home runs in one unforgettable game.
Dickey got even in a big way in the series finale, pitching a two-hit shutout for seven innings in the Mariners' 8-5 victory in front of 17,839 fans. Some of them might have been here more than two years ago, when the knuckleball specialist was just learning how to throw the pitch. "This is especially satisfying for me," he said, "because the last time I was on this field, it didn't go so well. The metamorphosis from that day to this day is pretty neat for me." Dickey worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and sailed through the most prolific offense in the Majors this season. Between a hit batter in the first inning, and a leadoff double in the eighth, the knuckleball specialist retired 18 of the 20 batters he faced. His bid for a shutout ended when Ramon Vazquez drilled a two-run home run to right field. "I was pitching to the scoreboard right there," Dickey (3-5) said. "We were ahead 8-0 and I didn't want to walk [Vazquez]." Things got a little hairy for Seattle after Dickey departed. The Rangers loaded the bases after Vazquez's home run. Right-handed reliever Mark Lowe, who replaced Dickey and promptly walked the first batter he faced, retired David Murphy to end the inning. The six-run lead dwindled in the ninth, when four consecutive one-out hits scored three runs and brought the heart of the big league's most potent lineup to the plate. After being welcomed by a first-pitch, two-run double by Frank Catalanotto, right-hander J.J. Putz retired Michael Young on a line drive to Ichiro Suzuki in right and struck out Josh Hamilton to end the game and give Seattle (41-67) a split in the four-game series. "J.J. regrouped and was outstanding," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We want to get J.J. back. Catalanotto stepped up and turned one around on him, but his velocity was good. The last pitch was real good, not only in velocity, but the location. He tied up the best RBI guy in the league with a fastball down and away." Putz didn't pick up a save, but there were a lot of sighs of relief in the visiting dugout. "We never really felt comfortable the way they swing the bat up and down the lineup," said Riggleman of the Rangers, who usually have four All-Stars at the top of the lineup. The Mariners have one All-Star, at the very top of the lineup in Ichiro, who led the way with a triple and double and scored runs in the first and second innings. Seattle finished with 11 hits, including at least one from every starter, and designated hitter Adrian Beltre belted his 19th jack of the season, a three-run line drive into the right-field bleachers in the eighth inning. What looked to be three insurance runs became the decisive runs. It was the sixth consecutive game that the Mariners reached double figures in hits, but what was even more impressive, perhaps, were the eight walks they worked two Rangers pitchers for in the finale. "Eight walks were impressive," Riggleman said, "but it's too early to call it anything other than one night. We'd like to see it become a trend. You don't want to lose aggressiveness, but like for them to be able to tell a ball from a strike." Dickey certainly knew the difference. He walked only one of the 31 batters he faced, crediting the numerous first-pitch strikes he threw with his knuckleball for his success. "This park will produce a lot of runs, so getting my knuckleball over early in the count was huge," he said. "They are aggressive hitters and they were hitting pieces of it." Dickey retired the side in order in the second, third, sixth and seventh innings and only one Ranger reached second base between the first and eighth innings. "When a starter does that, it's a beautiful thing," Riggleman understated. "After [Carlos Silva] came out early in the second game, we needed someone to go deep in the game. We didn't want to use [Cesar] Jimenez or [Roy] Corcoran and it was really big that Dickey gave us that much time out there." And he enjoyed every minute of it. "It's not like I have any vendetta against the Rangers for not keeping me around," he said. "I had a good experience here. It was the experience that started the embarkation of what I am doing now, throwing a knuckleball. There are some guys in that front office and on that team I am real thankful for." As for the ballpark itself, Dickey got even.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.