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La Russa zaps the emotional angle, goes all hardball with Cain over Dickey

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist


KANSAS CITY -- Boy, that Tony La Russa sure is a killjoy.

In naming Matt Cain to start Tuesday night, La Russa, the National League manager, sucked the air right out of easily the best human-interest story here: The prospect of 37-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on the mound when the 83rd All-Star Game begins.

But in a strictly baseball sense, it is an easily defensible move.

"We wanted to reward Matt Cain for a career of excellence," La Russa said of himself and pitching coach Dave Duncan. "And it's getting better and better.

"It was a tough call."

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Cain this season is 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP.

Dickey is 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP.

Cain has worked 120 1/3 innings, Dickey is at 120. In that time, Cain has two complete games and two shutouts. Dickey has three complete games and two shutouts.

Cain, who earlier this year pitched the first perfect game for the Giants in San Francisco, called it "pretty cool for me" and added that "I'm really, really excited."

Dickey was disappointed, and the strange thing is that at mid-afternoon, when he and his fellow NL All-Stars met with the media, he still hadn't heard from La Russa.

"I'm not going to break down in tears over it, but at the same time I'm a competitor," Dickey said. "I want to pitch. I want to start.

"I feel like I've had a good enough first half to be considered. But I'm not the boss. I don't have to necessarily agree with it but I have to respect it. That's the way it is."

Certainly, the knuckleball forces La Russa into a completely different realm of decision-making than faced by most All-Star managers. He recalled that when he managed the Cardinals after Dickey joined the Mets in 2010, he sat certain hitters in both spring training and in the regular season when Dickey pitched.

"R.A. can spook you," La Russa said.

He's not the first pitcher who has caused cases of vertigo among hitters with his knuckler. But baseball's establishment still often distrusts the pitch.

"I would hope it's not that," Dickey said. "You're talking about the best baseball players in the world. And to say that someone's got a pitch that's too nasty for the best people just doesn't make any sense. If that's the reason, I think that's a poor reason.

"That being said, I don't know the reasons. Whenever I pitch, it will be great. It will be an honor."

There has been a lot of talk about catchers Buster Posey and Carlos Ruiz, and their ability to keep the knuckleball in front of them.

"That's part of what's been over-thought, maybe," Dickey said. "If you get a good 20 or 30 pitches with a guy at this level, this caliber of player ... I've had one wild pitch all year. I've walked 26 guys. It's not like people are running back to the backstop every two seconds.

"I think they would all get it pretty quickly. I certainly hope that's not one of the reasons that I didn't start the game."

Neither Posey nor Ruiz has experience catching a knuckler. Posey regularly is behind the plate in San Francisco when Cain pitches, which is something else that excites Cain.

"I hope we get in a groove," Cain said.

La Russa hinted that Dickey will enter the game in tandem with Ruiz, saying he thinks the best way to handle it is for a catcher to catch Dickey's warmup pitches in the bullpen to get a feel for the knuckler. For that reason, the manager said, he would hesitate to bring Dickey into the game in the middle of an inning.

"That's good," Dickey said. "That makes sense. That's how I certainly would handle it."

Whenever he pitches, Dickey, as you'd expect, is simply thrilled to be here. His wife, Anne, their four children and his mother are with him in Kansas City.

"It's been great," he said. "And having my family be a part of it, having gotten here as a 37-year-old man and having my family be old enough to enjoy it with me, has been a real rich thing. They're all excited about the [Red Carpet] Parade and the Home Run Derby. They get it.

"To have played long enough where your kids get it, that's a big deal."

Not starting, he said, does not remove the edge.

"It is an honor," Dickey said. "And it will continue to be that regardless of whether I pitch to a batter, or if I pitch two innings or start the game or close it. It doesn't matter."

 
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