On ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball this week, the stage is set for a Subway Series Showdown in front of a national audience, featuring arguably the two best pitchers in baseball. The New York Yankees visit the cross-town rival New York Mets, the Yankees sending C.C. Sabathia to the mound to face the Mets’ R.A. Dickey in a battle of ace pitchers who coincidentally both use initials as first names. To say that their careers have taken slightly different paths would be a giant understatement.
C.C. Sabathia has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since he debuted with the Cleveland Indians in 2001, when at the age of 20 years old he was the youngest player in the major leagues, finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Ichiro Suzuki. Since then Sabathia (now 31 years old) has won 185 total games, is a five time MLB All Star, won the Warren Spahn Award three times (presented to the best left handed pitcher in baseball), won the 2007 Cy Young Award and the 2009 World Series Championship with the New York Yankees. During the 2012 MLB Season thus far, he is tied for the AL Lead with 9 wins, is third in baseball with 103 strikeouts, and has a solid (and dropping) 3.55 ERA. He is on pace for another outstanding season with the New York Yankees, and is making $23,000,000 this year, not too shabby. If Sabathia can keep up his dominant performances for a few more seasons, he will be joining many other Yankee legends in Cooperstown one day, he is considered one of the top pitchers of his generation.
The best pitcher in the major leagues plays in New York City as well, but not in the Bronx, he plays in Queens. Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey was a journeyman who has suddenly become the best pitcher in baseball, and it is truly one of the most incredible stories you will ever hear. Dickey was drafted in the first round (18th overall) of the 1996 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers out of the University of Tennessee. Rangers team doctors noticed a problem with his strange throwing motion, and discovered he was completely missing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, and told him he should not be able to turn a doorknob without feeling pain, let alone pitch in the major leagues. He debuted for the Rangers in 2001. Dickey was known for his forkball, which he dubbed “The Thing”, and he decided that the best way to extend his career would be to morph the forkball into a knuckleball. He convinced the Rangers to allow him to use the knuckleball at the major league level, and they obliged naming Dickey the fifth starter in 2006, until he surrendered six home runs in his first start and was quickly demoted to the minor leagues. Following the 2006 season, he signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, and he spent the 2007 and most of the 2008 seasons in the minors. He was again called up to the majors by the Seattle Mariners in August of 2008, when he tied the record of most wild pitchers in an inning, with four. He spent the 2009 season with the Minnesota Twins, then signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets for the 2010 season, where he was eventually called up and pitched well enough to sign a two year contract extension. Dickey was solid but unspectacular during the 2011 going 8-13 and posting a 3.28 ERA for a bad Mets club.
Suddenly, during the 2012 season at the age of 37, everything clicked for the knuckleballer, and he is on one of the greatest pitching streaks in recent memory. Dickey leads the major leagues with 11 wins (11-1 record), tied for most in the majors (with Detroit ace Justin Verlander) with 103 strikeouts, and tied for the best ERA in baseball (2.00) ERA with Atlanta’s Brandon Beachy. Of course, Dickey makes considerably less money than Sabathia (a bargain at $4,250,000), but last night he struck out a career high 13 batters and became the first pitcher in over 24 years to throw back-to-back one hitters.
This Sunday night the two aces with totally different career paths will square off in front of a national audience on ESPN. The Mets’ unlikely ace Dickey, the hottest pitcher in baseball (11-1 2.00 ERA) will face the New York Yankees, the hottest team in baseball and winners of ten straight games. Dickey is the first pitcher in more than two decades to throw consecutive one hitters, while Sabathia is coming off a dominating performance in a complete game win. Although they Yankees swept the Mets previously in an earlier interleague series at Yankee Stadium, the Big Apple is already buzzing about the matchup at Citi Field on Sunday Night, when the top two aces in baseball who both reside in the greatest city in the world face off on the national stage.