NEW YORK -- Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's documentary "Knuckleball!" was released in select theaters on Tuesday. Filmed in 2011, it highlights the seasons of the game's then-only two knuckleball pitchers, the Red Sox's Tim Wakefield and the Mets' R.A. Dickey.
Wakefield was on his way out -- 2011 would prove to be his final season in the Majors -- but Dickey was just getting started.
Very few could have predicted the 2012 campaign the 37-year-old has compiled. Even after a loss to the Phillies on Monday night, Dickey's 18-6 record, 2.67 ERA and 205 strikeouts make him a leading candidate for the National League Cy Young Award.
And numbers like that don't go unnoticed.
Wakefield and knuckleball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro were at Citi Field on Wednesday night to promote the film alongside Dickey. Though not the main focus of the film, Niekro, Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Jim Bouton and Tom Candiotti -- all former knuckleballers -- have a role.
Niekro finished with 314 wins, 3,342 strikeouts and a knuckleball that allowed him to pitch late into his 40's -- he won a Major League-record 121 games after his 40th birthday. But he said Dickey's success with the pitch this season might be the best he's seen.
"He's got it going," Niekro said. "I don't think any knuckleballer ever started a season like he did; he's making us all proud. If I don't get to see him on TV or listen on the radio, I always check the papers to see how he did the night before."
Knuckleballers are oft grouped together as unconventional pitchers, but Niekro never quite understood the stigma attached to the pitch. For him, it was nothing more than "a pitch I could get guys out with."
"I never thought it was a trick pitch," Niekro said. "People say crazy pitch, funky pitch, trick pitch, but all I know is that what I could throw and get them out in the big leagues.
"Knuckleball pitchers, we don't think we're freaky, we just have something a little different than most guys do and we're going to throw it. That's the name of the game."
If Dickey's success holds any weight, it certainly has helped legitimatize the knuckleball. He throws an unconventional pitch in an unconventional fashion, consistently throwing it in the low 80s. He's brought it new life, and Niekro joked that if there are any young arms willing to start up as knuckleballers, he's available to help teach it, even at 73 years old.
"You want to call it freaky, go ahead," Niekro said. "Because I call it a ticket to the big leagues."
Francisco diagnosed with right elbow tendinitis
NEW YORK -- Frank Francisco's turbulent season took another turn for the worse this week, when the Mets diagnosed their closer with right elbow tendinitis. Francisco was unavailable for Wednesday's game against the Phillies with the issue, which manager Terry Collins said has been bothering him since Sunday.
"He's had it for three days," Collins said. "We just didn't need to use him."
Francisco has not appeared in a game since Sunday, when he fired a scoreless inning in Milwaukee. Though Francisco has pitched fairly regularly in September, the Mets have not presented him with a save opportunity since Sept. 1. He has just five saves chances since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 4, and has converted all of them.
Still under contract for one year and $6.5 million after this season, Francisco has posted a 5.53 ERA with 23 saves in 26 chances. He missed time in Spring Training with a right knee injury, later spending more than a month on the DL with a series of midsection and knee issues.
Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell and Josh Edgin have all seen action late in games this season, and would be the leading candidates for save opportunities should Francisco miss any significant time.
Selig reiterates support for Wilpons, Katz, Alderson
NEW YORK -- In the waning days of what is shaping up as a sub-.500 season for the Mets, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig reiterated his support for Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz, along with general manager Sandy Alderson.
"I have a lot of faith in the Wilpons," Selig said Wednesday afternoon at a YES Network taping in Manhattan. "I have a lot of faith in Sandy Alderson. A lot of clubs go up and down. You learn that in the business. That's what makes the sport so interesting, because you just don't know. Yes, I'm very confident about the Mets. Absolutely, I have no concern whatsoever."
Selig was a supporter of the Wilpons throughout their recent financial struggles, which included a since-settled $1 billion lawsuit from the trustee seeking to recover funds from Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. At one point, MLB loaned the Mets $25 million, which the Wilpons repaid earlier this year. Alderson also oversaw a record-setting payroll cut of roughly $50 million from Opening Day 2011 to Opening Day 2012.
Still, Selig indicated that the Mets have stabilized their situation, and should be ready to compete again soon.
"Yes, I have great respect for Wilpons," Selig said. "But I felt in studying the issues the Mets could survive. They were unfortunate victims in a financial scandal, one that put pressure on them. But they had the respect of everybody in the game, had the potential to work through it, so I realized it was in baseball's best interest to have patience there."