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Generating Echoes

For six innings Tuesday night, I was content to float along on the echoes provided by the visitor who used to call Citi Field home, the visitor who was the first Met to make Citi Field feel like a home [1]. R.A. Dickey [2] was pitching a shutout for the Braves against the Mets. See past the uniform, see only the man, the arm, the knuckleball. Remember R.A. when you didn’t have to parcel out your perspective. Remember when the language flowed and the knucklers danced and the mystique marveled.

It’s not the first time we’d encountered R.A. in 2017, five seasons removed from the culmination of his Cy Young journey, when he became, all at once, award-winning, best-selling and awe-inspiring. Intradivision competition recurs frequently. Dickey the Brave faced the Mets once in April, once in May and once before in September. I couldn’t help but be hyperaware of the juxtaposition of R.A. as opponent on each occasion, but I also couldn’t thoroughly give myself over to his presence. In April and May, it was too early. Previously in September [3], I was more concerned with the immediate fortunes of his opposite number and our contemporary ace, Jacob deGrom.

Here, in the last week, with no partisan priorities pervasively prevailing, I couldn’t and didn’t mind that Dickey turned the Citi Field clock back to 2012, even if it meant he was wearing the Mets hitters on his watch chain. Between the third and the seventh innings, there was a span of 13 batters during which R.A. threw 34 pitches and recorded 13 outs. I couldn’t tell if the Mets were no longer capable of putting up a fight or the Braves starter had simply demilitarized them. If it wasn’t exactly vintage Dickey (more swings, misses and silly looks would have ensued), it was a performance to be savored by any Mets fan residually grateful to have been along for R.A.’s ride when there wasn’t much else to cling to in these parts.

The Mets were losing, 3-0. Rafael Montero gave up runs in the first and second before settling down into his version of a groove (baserunners on in every inning, but no more damage done). Montero’s incremental progress has been worth cheering in the second half of this lost season, but it was no longer an issue by the final third of its 158th game. Rafael had been lifted for a pinch-hitter after six. R.A. was still getting his knucklers over. Given his max efficiency, I could see another eight Mets going quietly. I could see R.A. Dickey, age 42 and contemplating retirement [4], going out with a 68 MPH bang. I wanted the complete game for R.A. I wanted the shutout. I didn’t necessarily want the Mets to lose, but I definitely wanted him to win.

In this year more than most, we are reminded we can’t ever get what we want, not to specifications anyway.

Brandon Nimmo, recently learning of the wondrous things that can occur when the bat leaves the shoulder, singled with one out in the seventh. Then Kevin Plawecki [5] stood in for seven pitches, the longest plate appearance the Mets had manufactured all night. The seventh pitch was, depending on your point of view, the curse or the charm or maybe a bit of both. Plawecki whacked it over the Great Wall of Flushing. Dickey’s spell was broken. The Mets were on the board, trailing only 3-2.

I could feel my allegiance shift from the dreamy past to a surprisingly vital present. Rooting for R.A. to pen a stylish P.S. to his potential final Citi Field and maybe career start had been a matter all its own. A Mets-Braves game was something else, even with the Braves sitting on 71-85 and the Mets wallowing at 67-90. For all their foibles, we still love our Mets. For all their irrelevance, we still hate the Braves. They are, after all, the Braves.

Dickey needed seven pitches to ground out Dominic Smith for the second out of the seventh, then threw two more to Amed Rosario. The second of them went for a Rosario Speedwagon triple. Once Amed had taken it on the run, Brian Snitker came out for a walk, removing R.A. and any reason to feel conflicted. Dickey left the mound, headed for the third base dugout and, because he’s R.A. Dickey, attracted applause from the Mets fans standing in his midst.

Because he’s R.A. Dickey, he tipped his cap to them [6]. It was a Braves cap, but you work with the gear they give you. The gesture spoke for who R.A. was to us, who R.A. will always be in our hearts. The night’s box score dissolved to immaterial. If R.A. Dickey was departing Citi’s field of play for the last time, he was leaving it as a winner — and in enough of a Metlike state to allow us to overlook the distasteful uniform he modeled. Fabric can obscure only so much.

Amed’s triple didn’t lead anywhere, but the Mets were just getting going. Perhaps it would have been more poetic had Travis d’Arnaud been the catcher to deliver the reverie-disrupting home run off Dickey, since it was Travis who was one of the promising pieces the Mets received for R.A. five years ago, but Plawecki makes sense in his own way. Kevin is catching as much as he is because Travis maybe caught too much. A little less d’Arnaud, a little more Plawecki…we could be building the perfectly adequate two-headed beast behind the plate. Or it could be September when everybody who hasn’t knocked down walls is suddenly blasting balls over them.

The Dickeyesque echoes had subsided, but you could hear others if you so chose. In the eighth, Asdrubal Cabrera, power-hitting playoff-chase hero of 2016, drove a liner into the gap that was sure to put the Mets ahead, 4-3. Instead, the ball was snagged by platinum-gloved playoff-chase villain of 2016 Ender Inciarte, reducing the two-RBI double to a game-tying sacrifice fly. Inciarte, who also registered his 200th hit Tuesday night, would have fit well on the turn-of-the-century Braves, which is to say I really and truly despise him, albeit in a baseball sense (as if that isn’t strong enough).

Other current Braves I can’t stand like I couldn’t stand the Joneses and Jordan and Perez and Lopez and Lockhart and Klesko and don’t even get me started on their pitchers: all of them. All of them except Dickey, and we’ve already established Dickey is at heart a Met in Brave’s clothing. Seventeen years before Tuesday night, on September 26, 2000, the Braves were on the verge of defeating the Mets at Shea Stadium and clinching their sixth consecutive National League East title. I was there. I had never seen a division title clinched in person. And when the Braves recorded the final out, I still hadn’t, because I had bolted rather than stay to watch it. The next night, the Mets beat the Braves and clinched their second consecutive Wild Card. I stayed for that. It was fun. Winning the division would have been more fun. That we, not they, went on to win the pennant that October hasn’t nudged that nugget of resentment from my consciousness.

Stubborn things, those echoes.

Tying the Braves on Tuesday night was fun. Beating them was going to be more fun, provided we could engineer the full comeback. In the ninth, Plawecki emerged again, this time singling to lead off a still-knotted game against lefty A.J. Minter. Minter is a rookie lefty who had never walked anybody. The next batter, Smith, is a rookie lefty rarely allowed by his manager to hit against lefties in late & close situations, which 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth surely qualifies as. Terry Collins let it be known earlier Tuesday that he, unlike his former charge Dickey (and contrary to prior reports [7]), is not contemplating retirement [8]. Collins may be the proverbial old dog, yet he’s apparently willing to entertain new tricks. Smith stayed in to hit…and worked out the first walk to blemish Minter’s ledger.

First and second, nobody out. Rosario, the fella who tripled two innings before, was asked to sacrifice. The Mets gave up the out, but to no avail, as Amed went down on a foul tip. The next batter was one of the Travii. Not d’Arnaud, but Taijeron. Taijeron isn’t widely considered a part of the next Met generation. Rosario and Smith, sure. Plawecki, probably. Taijeron is inventory in the cold vernacular of the industry (“the industry” is also cold vernacular). He’s a Met outfielder because at least four 2017 Met outfielders stopped being 2017 Met outfielders in August. In the spring of 2016, Taijeron lit up Spring Training, won the John J. Murphy Award as St. Lucie’s outstanding rookie, and was then summarily dispatched to Las Vegas, not to be heard from again all year. He wouldn’t have been heard from at all this year, either, except for the removal of Bruce and Granderson and the subsequent disabling of Conforto and Cespedes.

You saw Taijeron come to bat with two on and one out in a tied ninth inning and the best you could hope for was an echo of a September cameo past. Esix Snead won a game under similar circumstances in September 2002. Craig Brazell won a game kind of like this in September 2004. And now, in September 2017, it was Travis Taijeron [9]’s turn. He lined a ball that confounded Jace Peterson in left (and cleverly avoided Ender Inciarte in center), driving home Plawecki’s pinch-runner Juan Lagares for the 4-3 Mets victory [10].

Soon, you’ll mostly forget about it. Someday, though, it might resonate like crazy.