Asked right after the Tampa game how it felt to lose his Mets-record scoreless string on an unearned run in the 9th, the ever-placid Dickey said only, “It’s a good time to start another one.”

And how.

On the heels of his dazz-baffling 1-hit, 12-K, 0-walk, ER-shutout of the Rays, R.A. Dickey got a clean 1-hit shutout of the Orioles Monday night, with 13 strikeouts to match the Mets’ high of the last 5 years. The only blots were a line single by Wilson Betemit on a straight-ish knuckler with 2 out in the 5th, snapping a 12-IP hitless skein, and full-count walks to Betemit in the 8th and to pitcher Jake Arrieta in the 3rd, that one snapping the perfect game.

Perfect game? You think such thoughts with Dickey on the hill these days.

The tricksy pitch that was a wonder from the opening toss in Tampa got better as this game moved briskly on. Few balls were hit hard: Betemit’s single was the first ball to reach the outfield. David Wright, the maybe-culprit in the last one-hitter, snared a liner in the 6th, reaching to his right but not diving, then made a smooth swiping pickup of an in-between bounder (and then a steady throw) for the next out. That was about it.

The corner pasturemen got the night off. There were two lazy flies to CF; everything else was on the infield, mostly in Josh Thole‘s glove — or that of Ike Davis, when Thole had to track down strike 3 and complete the out. The shimmy-shake reached a sublimely ridiculous apex in the 8th, when a pitch to poor Nick Johnson – getting his first glimpse — took an abrupt left turn away from his bat in mid-swing. The next offering was fouled off his shin, leaving Johnson (as usual) hobbling. The next was called strike 3, strikeout number 11.

The O’s didn’t like some of the calls, and maybe they were right sometimes. Maybe the last pitch to J.J. Hardy in the 9th should have been ball four instead of strikeout number 12. But with a lineup that leads the majors in Ks, it was just a matter of time.

And to make sure it didn’t all go to waste, Ike Davis launched his first-ever grand slam with 2 gone in the 6th for the game’s first runs. It felt like ten runs. That rally, too, began with Dickey’s leadoff single. It all comes back to Dickey now.

You can’t help but think of Vander Meer and the record you’ve heard all your life would never be matched. You can’t help but think, how close it was. One split-second judgment and a skip off the infield skin, and one butterfly that missed the breeze: that’s all that came between Robert Alan Dickey and immortality.

We’ll save the rest of the “first since…” and “only guy ever to…” for another time. The performance, like the pitch and pitcher that produced it, is unquantifiable.

_______________

The Mets are having just about as interesting of a season as you can have without making the playoffs.

David Wright batting .400 through game 45. Ike Davis forgetting how to hit a pitched ball. The unexpected everyday presence of The Nieuw Kid. Back from dicey surgery, Johan slaking a half-century’s no-hit thirst. Frank Francisco, on the brink of rejection like a transplanted organ, delivering a post-game rant somehow redolent of Pedro’s “sitting under a mango tree without 50 cents to pay for the bus” monologue, then making an abrupt U-turn towards dominance. Shortstops and left fielders dropping like Spinal Tap drummers.

And now, for the first time in 27 years, a Mets pitcher has found a groove that makes him seem a no-hit threat every time out.

It can’t go on forever. Even as we dream that Dickey’s invention, the hard knuckler, is the new Perfect Pitch, we know in our hardened hearts that every action in this grand old game has an equal and opposite reaction. There’ll be another rainy night in Georgia when the floater flops. The spell will be broken, and Dickey will go back to the solid pitcher he was before the pixie dust fell.

Enjoy it while you can, baseball fans.

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