By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- R.A. Dickey leads the majors in wins and his staggering unbeaten string has made him an All-Star for the first time.
Extending that streak may strengthen his case to be the NL's starter.
The knuckleballer looks to become the first New York Mets pitcher to win 13 games prior to the break in 22 years Thursday night when he faces fellow All-Star Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Dickey (12-1, 2.15 ERA) has harnessed his baffling pitch to improbably become one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2012. Already with a career high in wins, the 37-year-old right-hander ranks among the major league leaders in ERA, strikeouts (116) and opponent batting average (.190).
"The metaphor I would give is that if a traditional knuckleball is a butterfly, mine is more like a butterfly on steroids," Dickey said. "It's more like a mosquito or a hummingbird than a butterfly, because of the velocity. It comes in and breaks late at the plate. It darts more and it's in and out of the strike zone. Phil Niekro once told me I had an 'angry' knuckleball."
That pitch is the major reason he's unbeaten since losing at Atlanta on April 18, going 10-0 with a 1.51 ERA in his last 13 outings. That includes five wins in six June starts behind a 0.93 ERA while fanning 55 in 48 1-3 innings, earning NL pitcher of the month honors.
Dickey seems like a front-runner to get the starting nod in next week's All-Star game.
"I feel like there's a lot of people who are worthy of starting the game," Dickey told the Mets' official website. "Whether I pitch an inning, I start the game or I pitch the whole thing, it doesn't matter personally to me. I would certainly be honored if I was given the ball in the first inning, sure."
Dickey is getting one more start before the Midsummer Classic, and a victory would make him the first Met to get 13 before the break since Frank Viola did it in 1990. The only other Mets to achieve that feat were Tom Seaver (three times) and Dwight Gooden.
Dickey is 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in four career home starts against the Phillies (37-46), and he beat them on the road April 13 by allowing one run in seven innings of a 5-2 victory.
New York (44-38) could use another strong performance after falling 9-2 to Philadelphia on Wednesday following an 11-1 victory in the series opener.
Hamels (10-4, 3.08), who is going to his third All-Star game, will try to help the Phillies take the three-game set, but he could use some help from an offense that had 12 hits with three homers Wednesday.
The left-hander compiled a 1.93 ERA in his last two starts, but has an 0-1 record in that stretch because he was backed by three total runs. Hamels has won both of his starts against the Mets this year while posting a 3.60 ERA.
He has been the subject of trade rumors since he's in the final year of his contract and the Phillies occupy last place in the NL East.
"I've always been a more honorable guy than anything and I'll always stay that way," Hamels said of the possibility of leaving Philadelphia on the team's official website. "It's never something where you get bitter. I've never been that guy that's ever gotten bitter and used it against somebody."
Batterymate Carlos Ruiz is hitting .412 with four homers and seven RBIs in his last nine games after driving in two runs on two hits Wednesday, including a solo shot.
Updated July 4, 2012