By Will Graves
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH - R.A. Dickey's knuckleball is designed to baffle, not overwhelm.
Against the free-swinging Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, it did both.
His 80 mph knuckler dipping and darting all over the place, Dickey struck out a career-high 11 as the New York Mets hung on for a 3-2 victory. Dickey (6-1) tied a host of others for the most wins in the majors to continue the best start of his career.
"It was consistently good throughout the game, which was nice," Dickey said. "A lot of times it will leave and come back, but tonight I felt like I had a really good one and I had a couple different kinds of knuckleballs tonight, which is really, really fun. "
Today: New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates, 12:35 p.m.
Pitching matchup: Mets LHP Jonathon Niese (2-2) vs. Pirates RHP Charlie Morton (2-4)
Dickey gave up one run on four hits and showed impeccable command of an unpredictable pitch.
"I was more impressed by the fact that in the seven innings he pitched, two balls hit the dirt," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "His numbers coming in were real. It was real last year. He competes and he made pitches."
Ones the Pirates were only too happy to swing at. Josh Harrison had two hits Pittsburgh but the Pirates couldn't take advantage of another strong start by James McDonald.
Mike Baxter, batting leadoff for the first time in his career, doubled to center off Juan Cruz (1-1) with one out in the eighth on a ball that nicked off Andrew McCutchen's glove. Baxter scored two batters later when Lucas Duda's liner glanced off the glove of first baseman Garrett Jones and rolled into right field.
New York added an insurance run on an error by Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez and the Mets hung on. It was a bit of payback for the Mets, who fell 5-4 on Monday night thanks in part to a ball caroming off centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis' mitt in the eighth inning, leading to a three-base error the Pirates turned into a win.
"Andrew doesn't miss many in center, and to go off his glove and have the one go off Jones' glove, it was ours tonight," New York manager Terry Collins said.
Dickey's knuckler isn't designed to rack up strikeouts, but then again the Pirates have a way of making opposing hurlers look dominant.
Pittsburgh began the night with the most strikeouts in baseball and had little trouble adding to the total. Though Hurdle warned his players to stay patient and only let it rip if the knuckleball stayed up, the Pirates continued to hack away.
"He was working both sides," New York catcher Mike Nickeas said. "The one he was able to repeat tonight and get a lot of swings and misses on was that one that is kind of flat and kind of explodes up at the end. That's tough to catch... If he can command that one, he's going to get a lot of strikeouts."
Dickey, enjoying a late-career revival at age 37, 10 straight at one point and the only batter he struggled to put away the 5-foot-9 Harrison, a utility player who keeps finding his way into the lineup with his spirited play.