NEW YORK - R.A. Dickey was so close yet so far from 20 wins, faltering from fatigue and fuming he had failed to seize the moment.
"About the fourth or fifth inning I felt exasperated. I was not myself today for the most part," he said.
"And then I'd come out for an at-bat and I would hear this kind of growing surge, and it really was neat. I mean I don't know if I've ever experienced something like that before. Maybe I never will again. Although I wasn't distracted from the moment, how could you not be motivated to go out there and give the fans and, well, your teammates and yourself all that you have?" he said.
Absorbing the energy from 31,506 fans at the final home game of another sorry Mets season, Dickey summoned his strength and concentration. David Wright boosted him into the lead with a tiebreaking three-run homer, and Dickey led New York over Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 Thursday to become the first knuckleballer in more than three decades to win 20 games.
"It's like a big exhale," Dickey said.
Throwing his hard knuckler at up to 78 mph, Dickey (20-6) allowed three runs and eight hits in 7 2/3 innings, tying his career high with 13 strikeouts and walking two.
With New York winding up its fourth straight losing season, he capped a trinity of highlights that began with the first Mets no-hitter by Johan Santana in June and continued with Wright setting the team career hits record on Wednesday.
"This was about R.A. today," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "It was about him. It was about his connection with the fans, the connection with the city. And so I said use that."
Quite a turnaround from 2010, when Dickey began the season at Triple-A Buffalo and had to prove he belonged in the majors. And from last year, when he was 8-13.
The 37-year-old had never won more than 11 games in any previous season is just 61-56 in his big league career.
"I was the picture of mediocrity by my own admission," he said.
But in the late stages of his career, he has mastered the knuckler - a pitch that has flummoxed most of those who have tried and must survive on fastballs.
"I think everybody here today would have taken one swing where they thought they were going to crush one and they swung right throw it," Pirates outfielder Travis Snider said.
Dickey had never set a numerical goal for his pitching.
"It's just much more for me if I can really harness the moment and suck the marrow out of every second, then I've done what I want to do and I can be satisfied," he said.
Dickey became the first 20-game winner for the pitching-proud Mets since Frank Viola in 1990 and the first knuckleballer to accomplish the feat since Houston's Joe Niekro in 1980, according to STATS LLC. Viola also reached 20 with a win over the Pirates.
New York had altered its rotation, giving Dickey a chance to win 20 at home. The fans gave Dickey his first ovation when he walked to the bullpen to warm up. He waved his cap as they applauded when he walked off after his 128th and final pitch - his most in eight years - and got a final round of applause when he returned to the field for a postgame interview that was broadcast over the stadium sound system.
The milestone following two life-changing events. He authored a book last spring, "Wherever I Wind Up," revealing he was a sexual abuse victim when he was 8. And he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for the Bombay Teen Challenge.