NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey admits he checks box scores, even if he does not place much stock in them. He maintains a general sense of how his competitors for the National League Cy Young Award are faring, even if he knows that "I just need to take care of me."
It would help, of course, if the Mets would take care of their knuckleballer as well. Recently they have not, in a trend that Monday's game punctuated. Dickey was strong yet again at Citi Field, holding the Phillies to three runs in seven innings while striking out eight. But the Mets could not back him against left-hander Cliff Lee, dropping a 3-1 game to the Phillies.
"It's unfulfilling," Dickey said. "I'm not leaving the park satisfied, that's for sure."
Trouble surfaced early for Dickey, who put a runner on base when catcher Mike Nickeas dropped his game-opening strikeout pitch to Jimmy Rollins. Dickey's own throwing error moved Rollins to second base, allowing him to score on Chase Utley's sacrifice fly to shallow center field after a groundout.
Dickey gave the Phillies two more runs on solo homers from Rollins in the fifth inning and Domonic Brown in the seventh, both on balls that barely cleared the right-field wall. Rollins' homer was so close to the fence that umpires initially ruled it a triple, before consulting video replay and overturning the call.
"I felt pretty good against him," Brown said. "That's all it was -- seeing it and hitting it."
Those homers left the Mets in a bind against Lee, who began grooving as soon as he wriggled out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first. The left-hander struck out Lucas Duda to end that threat, beginning a run of six strikeouts in an eight-batter span.
Lee completed eight innings, giving up nothing more than Daniel Murphy's bloop RBI single in the fifth.
That forced Dickey to take a hard-luck loss, significantly reducing his chances for a 20-win season with only three starts remaining. But the knuckleballer's effort did slightly boost his NL Cy Young Award credentials, lowering his ERA by one one-hundredth of a point and his WHIP by one one-thousandth of a point, while moving him within one strikeout of the NL lead. Along the way, Dickey became the 10th Mets pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season.
"You feel for him because all he's done is give himself a chance to win a baseball game," manager Terry Collins said. "We'll go back at the end of the year and recount the number of games where he didn't get a decision, or he allowed us to have an opportunity to win, and hopefully it doesn't get back to bite him too bad."
How it would bite him would be in Cy Young voting, where on paper at least, Dickey may be one of two competitors left standing.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw might have mounted the strongest offensive against Dickey's campaign, considering the left-hander's reigning Cy status, his league-leading strikeout total and his nine consecutive quality starts heading into this week. Kershaw was coming on strong. But a hip injury has put the rest of his season in jeopardy, potentially removing him from the Cy Young picture.
The next-closest competitor -- and quite possibly the favorite heading into September -- used to be Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto. But Cueto has gone 0-3 with an 8.22 ERA over his last three starts, which, combined with his relatively low strikeout total, has effectively removed him from the race.
Atlanta's lights-out closer, Craig Kimbrel, could make a run at the award, but his status as a relief pitcher will dampen his standing on many voters' ballots. Though Kimbrel could easily finish in second or third place overall, only one reliever has won a Cy Young in the past 19 years. History is not on his side.
That leaves only Washington's Gio Gonzalez, who beat the Mets last week but lost his next start against the Braves, and has now walked nine batters over his last two outings. Gonzalez leads the NL in wins but trails Dickey in nearly every other meaningful statistical category. It is also feasible that Gonzalez could lose a start down the stretch as the Nationals line him up for Game 1 of the Division Series.
With three starts to go, Dickey is aware of that general Cy conversation, if not all its particulars.
"That does not change the way I go about my business," Dickey said. "It doesn't do me any good to wish bad for them or good for them or whatever else. I just need to take care of me, and that's what I've tried to do consistently."