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Good Game, Good Game

I know I’m not the first to note their facial and follicle similarity, but on Thursday night Tim Lincecum really put me in mind of Mitch Kramer [1], the newly minted ninth-grader doing his best to avoid a paddling from the SOB seniors in 1993’s 1976 homage Dazed and Confused [2]. Whenever I see Lincecum’s locks, I think of Mitch at the moment his Little League game is over and he, his teammates and their opponents have to go through the sportsmanlike motions of exchanging disinterested high-fives and muttering — as 14-year-olds will, when forced to do anything — the ritual “Good game, good game…”

The sight of Lincecum, who, at 26, still looks like he just turned 14, never fails to elicit a “good game, good game” out of me. That’s how much Tim resembles Mitch. This time, however, I mean it. Dickey vs. Lincecum, the unappealing outcome [3] notwithstanding, was, in fact, a good game. A very good game. One of those games that’s so good within the context of crispness that you’d be a fool to stay mad about losing it.

Dickey, true to the cinematic identity he forged for himself prior to his loss in Puerto Rico [4], gave us just about every Chance to win. One pitch was a mistake, a knuckler that failed to float south of Pablo Sandoval’s happy zone. Otherwise, R.A. tended his garden just fine across seven innings of five-hit ball. Being There on the mound for the first post-break start was just what the Mets needed, despite various shouters on ‘FAN and SNY caterwauling that “YOU CAN’T START THE SECOND HALF WITH R.A. DICKEY!” as if his excellent first half wasn’t a matter of public record.

Likewise, being there for reporters after the game was right up R.A.’s alley, too. This guy is both substantively and literally a pleasure to listen to when it comes to explaining his night.

Dickey has a way with words you just don’t expect from ballplayers in the minutes after they’ve finished working. He couldn’t hold back his disappointment at being outdueled by one of the best pitchers in the game. “Sad,” he kept saying. He was particularly upset with himself for popping up a bunt in the third inning. Not advancing Ruben Tejada certainly didn’t help his cause, but Dickey didn’t earn his way into being trusted to kick off the back end of a pennant contender’s season by not being meticulous about all aspects of his performance. No wonder he thought Thursday’s result sad.

Another word he used truly tickled me. He was asked whether the Phone Company Park wind gave his knuckleball an advantage. Dickey paused, thought and answered: “Inconsequential.” Not “it didn’t matter” or “nah” or “not really,” but, “Inconsequential.”

Who, major league pitcher or otherwise, has a go-to word like inconsequential on the tip of his tongue? It was as if R.A. had just been studying for the S.A.T. And oh, that voice of his! Listen to him speak sometimes and then listen to Shawn Mullins open his one hit, “Lullaby,” with its spoken-word intro [5]: “the children of the stars/in the Hollywood hills and the boulevard…” Mullins even mentions Dickey’s hometown of Nashville (“with a tan”) toward the end of the song. I swear these guys’ vocal cords must have been separated at birth.

R.A. Dickey: losing pitcher this time, winning interview all the time.

Tim Lincecum, meanwhile, left Met batters dazed and confused between his fastball and his changeup. The Mets weren’t exactly high on hitting before the break and they weren’t about to start paddling these pitches. One could dissect the few chances they had and where they went awry, but I find it healthier, after inhaling the tasty pregame appetizer that was Mets Yearbook: 1965, to look at it through the prism of some of that season’s top National League hurlers.

Sandy Koufax beat the Mets 17 times in his career. Jim Maloney did it 19 times, Don Drysdale, 24; Juan Marichal, 26; and Bob Gibson, 28. Now Tim Lincecum has won once versus us. Unbalanced scheduling and pretty good luck had kept him off the board until now. No shame in losing to one of the great ones. And that’s what this kid is.

Speaking of great ones, who was that stranger batting cleanup and patrolling center field for New York?

Carlos Beltran hath returned! And he looked…all right. Hard to say, as he was greeted by Tim Lincecum for four at-bats. Carlos returned with one hit, one cheeky steal attempt (it took a dart of a throw from Buster Posey to nail him) and no collisions in the outfield. The brace on the right leg is pretty noticeable, but I detected no limp.

The only thing that bothered me in the slightest, really, was Beltran sort of jogging to first as he made the second out of the ninth. If it’s because he wasn’t capable of running 90 feet at full speed, that’s not good. If it’s because he figured it was best to conserve his legs as they build up strength, it’s still not good. I’ve seen Met pitchers and Met catchers not bust it now and again this year, and I rationalize that they have an excuse given the demands of their positions. It was just one grounder that wasn’t likely to be thrown away, but watching Beltran not run it out gave me shivers of the 2009 variety, the year when too many Mets didn’t run balls out. First night back, getting the feel of full activity, it’s not a huge deal. But I’m hoping it’s not a sign that Beltran isn’t up to the mission of the 2010 Mets physically or attitudinally.

In 2010, the Mets run out most everything. It’s one of the reasons they’re still in it despite having no Carlos Beltran for 88 games.

Now to be totally inconsistent on the subject of hustle, it’s tough not to worry about Jose Reyes and his doubtless desire to go all out. J!4 was in the starting lineup for about twenty minutes Thursday afternoon before somebody noticed he still wasn’t capable of hitting lefty. Being without Jose Reyes just as we are finally with Carlos Beltran is a cruel baseball joke, but we may to be without him on the active roster already yet. Half a Jose really isn’t better than none. Obliques apparently don’t play themselves into shape.

Last chance to vote in the FAFIF primary for Howard Megdal [6]. Our polls close at 5 PM EDT.