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Associated Press

Furthermore …

Practically unhittable

One of this year’s most surprising baseball stars is R.A. Dickey, a 37-year-old journeyman known for a pitch that barely reaches 80 mph.

Like many other aging pitchers who lost the zing on their fastball, Dickey began throwing a knuckleball. Unlike most of those pitchers, Dickey has been successful – especially this year as a member of the New York Mets, when he became the first National League pitcher since 1944 to pitch two consecutive one-hit games.

A pitcher throws a knuckleball with a clawlike grip, the idea being not to allow the ball to spin. The lack of spin and slow speed make the ball susceptible to changing direction before it reaches the plate, making it difficult for batters – as well as catchers – to predict where the ball will cross the plate.

Indeed, Bob Uecker, the former catcher who later became an announcer and actor, once said, “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up.”

The number of truly successful knuckleball pitchers can be counted on one hand – Hoyt Wilhelm and brothers Phil Niekro (whom Uecker caught) and Joe Niekro leading the pack. More are like Jim Bouton, who recounted his uphill effort to keep his career going as a knuckleballer in “Ball Four,” a diary of the 1969 Seattle Pilots that fans loved and players hated.

In a Big Apple showcase this week, Dickey started against the Yankees, who beat the Mets 6-5. But Dickey wasn’t assigned the loss, keeping his admirable 11-1 record intact.

The benefits of ‘Obamacare’

While the nation awaits a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act – now expected Thursday – the Obama administration is pointing out the advantages of one of the act’s key provisions.

The government said Hoosier seniors in the Medicare “doughnut hole” coverage gap saved $93.5 million on prescription drugs since 2010 as part of the law. Medicare paid a $250 doughnut hole prescription rebate in 2010 and in 2011 cut by half the cost of selected brand-name drugs. If the law is upheld, discounts – and savings for seniors – will increase annually.

The eventual closing of the prescription drug doughnut hole is one of the main improvements in the health care law, derided by opponents as “Obamacare.”

Another – one that many Americans would surely miss if the law is overturned – is the ending of pre-existing condition limits. And, one of the principal reasons for the act is offering health care coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans.

And for people who think the law helps only low-income people, consider that it offers tax credits for small businesses and assistance for companies that provide health insurance to early retirees.

Conservatives’ success in building opposition to programs many Americans support was demonstrated by a Reuters news poll released Sunday. It found 56 percent of Americans oppose the law and 61 percent are against the individual mandate, a requirement first proposed by Republicans. But a majority of Americans favor key elements, with an overwhelming 82 percent favoring the ban on pre-existing conditions. The poll’s margin of error was 3.5 percent.