NEW YORK -- After eight innings, R.A. Dickey was only getting better as the game went on.
He'd only thrown 97 pitches and had retired his last 13 batters. He told New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel that he wanted to finish the job, too.
"I was unsuccessful," Dickey said.
It was about the only thing Dickey couldn't do Wednesday night, baffling the Tigers for eight innings with his knuckleball before Francisco Rodriguez came on to get some much-needed work and finish off the Mets' 5-0 victory against Detroit.
The Mets got an early solo home run from Jose Reyes and an RBI double from David Wright to send them on their way to their 21st victory in 28 games, lifting them to 11 games above .500.
Dickey (6-0) allowed four hits and two walks. He missed out on his second complete-game shutout -- he blanked the Tigers in 2003 -- only because Rodriguez hadn't pitched since Friday.
"I know that we have to keep Frankie on some type of game regimen and it's a difficult, difficult decision that you hate to deprive a guy of a complete-game shutout," Manuel said.
Dickey won for the sixth time in seven starts. K-Rod pitched a tidy ninth, working around the single he allowed to Miguel Cabrera, who went 0 for 3 against Dickey.
Manuel emphasized that it was a difficult decision to pull Dickey, prompted in part because Rodriguez had indicated before the game that he would need to pitch.
"If we don't do that, we fall back into a category of not having him sharp, and he needs to be sharp," Manuel said. "And we found out that if he doesn't get those innings, it becomes very difficult for him to close out games."
Dickey was almost a spring training afterthought, a former power pitcher signed to a minor-league deal. Now he has helped the Mets play their way back into contention after a pretty dire beginning. He understands there's more at stake this season.
"Keeping Frankie sharp is going to win us ballgames," Dickey said.
Dickey pretty much had this one in the bag himself, though. He was changing speeds with his knuckleball and just seemed to throw a switch in the fifth inning, turning a good outing into an excellent one.
"Early in the game, he was leaving the knuckler up a little bit, but when he keeps it down, he's very successful," Tigers leadoff hitter Johnny Damon said. "His knuckleball is almost as hard as his fastball, so he throws kind of a changeup knuckler, also."
Dickey, who rebuilt his repertoire around the knuckler after shoulder problems five years ago, even worked a four-pitch walk off reliever Joel Zumaya in the seventh and wound up scoring.
Mets center fielder Angel Pagan, who finished a home run shy of the cycle and had four RBI the night before, was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh.
Manuel said Pagan had spasms in his right side and would probably sit out Thursday night as a precaution.
Reyes led off the first inning with a triple and later singled, missing a cycle for himself by a double. He came around to score on Wright's double in the third, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead.
Jeremy Bonderman (3-5) allowed four runs and seven hits before leaving in the seventh, after 70 pitches, without getting an out. He didn't speak to the media after the game, but reliever Phil Coke hinted that Bonderman may have rather stayed in the game longer, too.
"To go out there and throw so few pitches, and not be allowed to continue, kind of bums you out a little bit," Coke said. "He threw great."
A night after the Mets routed Detroit 14-6, Wednesday night was a crisper affair, lasting only two hours, 25 minutes. Things slowed down when the Mets scored three runs in the seventh. They might have had more, but Wright was thrown out at third trying to advance on Ike Davis' two-run single.
The way Dickey was pitching, more runs would have just been gratuitous.
"We went up whacking away and just didn't center it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "They got two big hits and we didn't get any."
The first big cheer from the spirited crowd of 35,045 came when video of Landon Donovan's winning goal in stoppage time for the United States at the World Cup was shown on the big screen in center field. ... The Mets are 11-3 in interleague games this season after going 5-10 against the AL last year. ... Pinch-hitter Jesus Feliciano got his first big league RBI when he grounded into a fielder's choice with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. ... Dickey's only major league shutout was in 2003, against the Tigers. ... Dickey left after 97 pitches.