ATLANTA -- Rain fell, and fell, and fell -- so hard at one point that the Turner Field grounds crew had to work overtime between innings on the infield dirt and pitcher's mound. R.A. Dickey kept asking for fresh baseballs, but they did not stay dry for long. Later, he compared his task to "throwing water balloons." If hot, humid days are a knuckleballer's friend, Wednesday was the enemy.
"The conditions weren't great for his knuckleball today," admitted Braves second baseman Dan Uggla.
"But that can't be an excuse," said Dickey.
Dickey made that clear after his worst start in four years, bemoaning only that the Mets lost, 14-6, to the Braves, dropping two-thirds of a series to the same team they swept earlier this month. He was responsible for eight of those runs, throwing a wet knuckleball that often refused to flutter.
From the start, his signature pitch seemed different. Though Dickey struck out both Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward in a perfect first inning, his strike-three knuckleball to Heyward floated horizontally across the top of the zone, almost like a slider. Many of his pitches did not flutter, or tumble, or do anything really, like the ones that Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman hit for two-run homers in the third and fifth innings, respectively.
The resulting pitching line was eight runs, eight hits and five extra-base hits in 4 1/3 innings, snapping Dickey's streak of 14 consecutive quality starts dating back to last July.
"It was hard to get the feel of it just right," Dickey said. "But I was getting dry balls, too, and throwing poor knuckleballs with them. So it wasn't just the weather. It was poorly executed pitches, too."
Half the damage against Dickey came in the third inning, when the first two batters to face him reached base and Martin Prado doubled home both. Two batters later, Uggla -- who was hitless in 24 previous at-bats against Dickey -- launched a two-run home run to left field.
Though Dickey battled back for a scoreless fourth, Freeman chased him with another two-run homer in the fifth. Dickey allowed three two-run homers in all, including Juan Francisco's second-inning shot off a fastball, which put the Braves in front after Ike Davis had hit a solo shot in the top of the inning.
"You don't ever expect that," manager Terry Collins said. "And I would have to say that we won't ever see it again."
Thanks in large part to rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis -- he batted leadoff for the first time in his career, reached base four times and scored three runs -- the Mets still made multiple attempts to steal the victory, most notably bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs in the fifth. But after the Braves made a pitching change, eschewing starter Jair Jurrjens in favor of Cristhian Martinez, the next three Mets went down in order.
They also loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but Scott Hairston struck out looking against Chad Durbin to end the threat. In that fashion, from the fifth through eighth innings, they stranded a total of eight runners on base, prompting Collins to bemoan that "I've had better afternoons."
"They just went out and beat us in every part of the game," said third baseman David Wright, who drove in three runs off Jurrjens to tie Darryl Strawberry for the most RBIs in franchise history. "There was nothing that we did today better than them. They capitalized on our mistakes, they pitched a little better than we did and they hit a lot better than we did."
It was the pitching that seemed most out of character for the Mets, considering who was on the mound. Not since July had Dickey given up more than three runs in a game or pitched fewer than six innings, the textbook definition of a quality start.
Put into context, his run of success seems all the more remarkable. Dickey entered Wednesday's play with a 2.64 ERA dating to May 15, trailing only Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver over that span. Kershaw and Verlander won their respective league's Cy Young awards last season. Weaver and Halladay started the All-Star Game. Lee led them all with a 2.09 ERA and five shutouts.
And yet unlike the others (save for perhaps Halladay), Dickey entered that pantheon more on the basis of his consistency than his ability to dominate. The knuckleballer's 14 consecutive quality starts marked the longest stretch by a Met since 2008, and the seventh longest in franchise history. For a pitcher whose past had been littered with inconsistency, that much was a mark of pride.
But the streak is over now, flushed away in the Atlanta rain, which for Dickey meant only one thing.
"It's a good time," he said, "to start another one."