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Fear the Beardless

Some games are taut testaments to the majesty of baseball when it’s played at the highest possible level by the best players in the world.

And other games are just fun.

Tonight’s opening tilt with the Giants certainly wasn’t a taut testament to anything, not with balls being misplayed and dopey stuff on the bases and grousing at a rookie ump. But it sure was fun — a topsy-turvy affair with some dramatic home runs, intriguing subplots and even a little outside-the-lines interest.

The outside-the-lines interest was the announcer switcheroo that sent Gary Cohen and Ron Darling over to the MLB Network mikes in exchange for Bob Costas and Al Michaels. (Michaels has already been traded for a cartoon rabbit [1] in his broadcasting career; I bet he liked getting swapped for Darling better.) I was tempted to switch over and stick with Gary and Ron, but hung around partially out of laziness and partially because, much as I hate to say it, there’s a certain red-light effect when national announcers are calling your hometown team. This makes no sense — Gary and Ron know the Mets far better, and I think they’re superior announcers anyway. But it still happens — you hear the national guys and you lean closer to the set and look for bunting on the walls. Maybe it’s just conditioning from all those years of hearing Costas declare that Robin Ventura’s grand-slam single had traveled “back to Georgia!”

At least Michaels and Costas got a good one to call — and one with an intriguing subplot, no less. R.A. Dickey (magisterial in the Jose Reyes t-shirt he donned for a pregame interview) fell down on his third pitch and seemed in obvious pain, but continued on, bad glute and torn foot tendon and all, pitching very nicely despite all these ailments and having to leg out an infield hit and falling down in the basepaths. R.A. gets a lot of love from us for being smart, well-spoken, analytical and insanely interesting, but he also deserves credit for being one tough dude.

Let’s add that R.A. also had to endure watching some interesting defense behind him — as did his Giants’ opponents. Aaron Rowand misplayed a Carlos Beltran fly ball into a double, which led to Jason Bay doing the same thing soon thereafter. Later, Angel Pagan looked awfully tentative on a Bermuda Triangle pop-up hit by the loathsome Cody Ross, which fell in as various Mets looked at each other sheepishly. In the ninth, Pagan got revenge by hammering a ball to center that knuckled, traveling a bizarre parabola that befuddled poor Andres Torres and fell in. It was the only ball mentioned in this paragraph to be ruled an error, which proves for about the 8,372,145th time that baseball is not fair. Oh, and infielders got into the act too: There was poor Lucas Duda crawling, lunging and belly-flopping into first for a putout as Dickey tried to avoid him, the base and Pablo Sandoval, followed in neat symmetry by Brian Wilson making a quick snatch and grab of Justin Turner’s vertical bunt with Eli Whiteside crashing to earth in the very near vicinity. Just a weird game for anyone with a glove on.

Ah, Brian Wilson. You knew we’d get to him, didn’t you?

I’ve changed my mind [2] about the Giants’ nuttily hirsute closer — goonily surrealist ballplayers are more than OK with me, particularly now that professional sports all but insist on blandness in athletes. But there was Wilson on the mound, in a knotted-up game, and I was thinking back to how the Mets crumbled in this same park last year, and all the terrible things that have happened while up too late watching baseball against the Giants, and how much I didn’t want the Mets to limp into the break having seen a promising California swing turn sour.

Apparently Scott Hairston didn’t want that either. Our gleaming-pated chief power bat looked frankly overamped earlier this year, swinging pop-eyed at pitches around his eyebrows, but he gave Wilson the kind of grinding, patient at-bat the Mets have specialized in for a month or so, then drove one wonderfully beautifully and thrillingly over the left-field fence above those cute little cars that I always hoped would come to life and devour Barry Bonds. After the aforementioned double error and missed bunt, Wilson exited in favor of Jeremy Affeldt, and Bruce Bochy managed rather oddly, pitching to Beltran instead of Daniel Murphy, which led to Pagan stealing third with Beltran in Whiteside’s way and then driving Angel in. I’d write something cute about Beltran reminding Bochy that he’s Carlos Beltran, but hey, Bochy’s the one who just put him on the All-Star team. Thoroughly strange. Nick Evans then freed himself from the back of the organizational milk carton to drive in another, and the final series before Phoenix was off to a very nice start [3], thank you very much.

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Addendum: Ike Davis is currently going mano-a-mano with treadmills, but on Sunday July 17 at 7 p.m. he’ll be at Michael’s Restaurant in Brooklyn for a good cause — a dinner that includes a Q&A session with ESPN’s Linda Cohn, raffles and prizes for attendees. All proceeds will go to Solving Kids’ Cancer, a group committed to significantly improving survivorship of childhood cancers. Tickets are available from www.solvingkidscancer.org [4] or by calling (212) 588-6624.