CINCINNATI -- Even if thoughts of playoff contention have melted away for the Mets, plenty of individual goals remain. None hover more prominently than R.A. Dickey's quest to win 20 games, the Cy Young Award or both, potential exclamation marks for his superlative season.
But Dickey will have to wait at least five more days to bolster his credentials. Following a peculiar incident regarding two bracelets around his wrist, the knuckleballer served up a season-high three home runs to the Reds on Wednesday, dropping the Mets to a 6-1 loss.
"It was a bizarre outing," Dickey said. "It really was."
Dickey had already allowed one run when umpire Jim Joyce came to the mound in the second inning, and -- citing Major League rules -- demanded that he remove the two cloth friendship bracelets on his left, non-throwing wrist. The bracelets were gifts from Dickey's two young daughters, who gave them to their father prior to his hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro in January. He had worn them since.
"In the moment, I was a little bit angry because those were a couple of bracelets my girls had made me," said Dickey, who had to cut the bracelets from his wrist. "Nonetheless, I guess it is a rule and I had to follow it."
An inning later, Joyce returned to the mound to tell Dickey that Reds manager Dusty Baker was not the one who requested he cut off the bracelets. Exasperated, Dickey said he did not understand why Joyce delayed the game a second time just to tell him that. And Mets manager Terry Collins believed the incident affected his starting pitcher.
Despite shrugging off that notion, Dickey matched a season-high by giving up three home runs -- two of them absolute no-doubters. Though Great American Ball Park is infamous for its hitter-friendly dimensions, the latter two shots off Dickey would have cleared any fence in the league.
After Scott Rolen hit a solo homer with one out in the fourth, New Jersey native Todd Frazier boomed a 474-footer off the batter's eye in center field. Two innings later, Jay Bruce led off the sixth with a blast that climbed halfway up the right field seating bowl.
In total, the Reds rapped out 10 hits against Dickey, just when he appeared to be settling back into his early-season groove. Over his previous three starts, the knuckleballer had allowed a total of three runs.
"The guy's got 15 wins, an ERA under three and he's a great pitcher," Frazier said. "His ball moves and he just does the little things to get guys out, and he leads the league in strikeouts. What more can you say about that? We did our job today -- that was it."
Even if he had been a bit sharper, Dickey still might not have become the first league's first pitcher to reach 16 wins. The Mets did little to support him against Reds starter Mike Leake, a college teammate of first baseman Ike Davis at Arizona State. Leake allowed a run to score on Daniel Murphy's double play in the fourth inning, but otherwise was nigh unhittable; he retired the first nine batters of the game, then another nine in a row after the lone run scored.
Leake finished with a complete-game four-hitter, and as a result, the Mets lost for the seventh time in nine games.
"Some days you've got to tip your hat," Dickey said. "That guy pitched a heck of a ballgame and was moving the ball around and pumping strikes. You know you're not going to have a lot of margin for error, so you want to try to make every knuckleball really, really good."
Though he did not succeed in that regard, Dickey will receive plenty of opportunities to make up for Wednesday's clunker. Despite the Mets' plan to move to a six-man rotation, Dickey -- as the most durable member of that group -- will continue to start every fifth game.
So in addition to giving Johan Santana, Chris Young et al even more rest, the six-man rotation will not stifle Dickey in his quest to make history. No Mets pitcher has won 20 games since Frank Viola in 1990, and none has won the Cy Young award since Dwight Gooden in 1985.
One of the year's feel-good baseball stories, Dickey entered Wednesday's game with a league-best 15-3 record. He ranked fifth in the NL in ERA, second in strikeouts and third in Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all statistic created to gauge a player's overall value.
But there is no measuring the value of a bracelet. Collins hung on the incident after the game, wondering why it became such an issue. Dickey, with the cut pieces of cloth resting behind him in his locker, said he "did not understand the need for" Joyce to come to the mound on two separate occasions.
"I think it bothered him, yes," Collins said. "But he's still got to pitch through it, and he knows that."