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Escaping Soilmaster Stadium

It’s a silly but time-honored part of being a fan to make far too much out of the first few games of the year.

So, Opening Night: The Mets looked anemic at bat, Mike Pelfrey scuffled on the mound and Josh Johnson was borderline unhittable. DOOM! WE WILL NEVER WIN A GAME, EVERY PITCHER IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE JOSH JOHNSON, AND THIS IS THE WORST YEAR EVER!

Second Night: K-Rod blew the save, and to Greg Dobbs of all irritating Mets villains, but the Mets somehow avoided their 183,289th Soilmaster Special [1], coming back coolly to deep-six the Marlins and transform a victory-turned-defeat back into a victory. JOY! WE ARE NOT ROLLING OVER AND DYING ANYMORE, INSTEAD WE ARE STRONG AND RESILIENT AND HEADED FOR BETTER THINGS!

It’s the perils of the small sample size and a winter of Metscentric neurons firing wildly in response to new stimuli: The Mets came into today a .500 team with exhausted fans. So today was a relief in multiple ways. First off it was a win, and on the road and in a rubber game, to name two situations the Mets didn’t particularly excel in last year. But more than that, it was a laugher, or if it didn’t quite reach that level of in-the-bagness, you could at least think of it as a chuckler. After an early-innings barrage, assisted by the Marlins doing just about everything possible to help themselves lose a game, the Mets stopped hitting and their relievers looked shaky for the most part. But they left Miami (and Florida, finally) unscathed and having not even been particularly rattled [2] for the last nine innings.

R.A. Dickey was back, and that would have been grounds for celebration even if the final score had been different. Dickey is easy to caricature even while wishing him nothing but the best, what with his Bravehart faces in battle and the strangeness of knuckleballing in general and his being a genuine intellectual, a man who’s seemingly incapable of giving a dull answer to any question, whether it’s about a 3-2 pitch or having well-educated rotation mates or anything else. If Dickey didn’t exist, bloggers like us would have been tempted to invent him: This is a man who uses the word “autodidactic” in vaguely normal conversation [3], and unselfconsciously at that.

This is all wonderful, except for the danger of taking it too far, and turning Dickey into a parody out of an overabundance of affection, not malice. Dickey isn’t trying to be an intellectual or a media favorite or stand out in a clubhouse or anything else: He’s being himself, in a way that only those who are truly comfortable with who they are can manage to be. And though he understands that fans feel an affinity for knuckleballers [4] as seeming closer to them in terms of ability, he’s diplomatic enough not to point out that in his case, this is an illusion. Dickey was drafted by the Rangers because he could throw a fastball in the 90s, something the vast majority of the human race could never dream of doing. He’s a cat-quick fielder, finishing his delivery in perfect fielding position and using his glove like a stinger to strike down hot grounders and line drives dreaming of the outfield. And he’s genuinely dangerous with a bat in his hands. Dickey’s postgame press conferences may sound like a blogger’s fever dream of athletes-cum-professors, but focusing on the last part of that combination tempts us to shortchange the first part.

Dickey wasn’t great, but he was as good as he needed to be. Chris Capuano looked shaky, but D.J. Carrasco came in with the bases loaded and bailed him out, erasing John Buck on a nifty inside fastball for his first and so far only enemy batter as a Met. Tim Byrdak and Taylor Buchholz (the 900th player to wear a Mets uniform, by the way) weren’t great either, but they were good enough, and we were off to Philadelphia.

Kudos to Terry Collins for having got everybody’s feet wet he possibly could before the Mets head to the cauldron of Citizens Bank: I was relieved to get my first look at Carrasco against Buck instead of, say, Ryan Howard with two on and two out in the eighth. (Carrasco also elicited my first triumphant yell of the year.) Beyond that, it’s a roll call of instant impressions that we should remember are most likely overreactions: Josh Thole and Ike Davis look like they’ve built on their successes down the stretch last year, Jose Reyes lashed some balls today and even took some pitches, Carlos Beltran’s bat looks fierce even if his right-field routes seem a bit tentative, and there isn’t a Met who appears as stone-gloved as Emilio Bonifacio, who really ought to be named Malemano in honor of whatever it was he was doing over there. And — extra credit [5] — it was against the Marlins, whom I loathe and would much rather see contracted or moved to San Antonio and rebranded than given a new stadium. (It won’t make their owner less awful or make their useless fans more likely to show up.)

All of these instant impressions are true, or true enough. It’s also April 3rd, early enough that we can remember most every play and at-bat of this newborn season. We’re allowed to overreact, and given all that’s happened in the last few years, a happy overreaction might be just the thing for us. But we should remember that’s what we’re doing.