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The Mets have run short on reasons to smile, but R.A. Dickey has remained a pretty reliable source of grins.
While everything else collapses around him, Dickey just floats his knuckleball and strokes his beard and tries to win 20 games to put a silver lining on one more second half collapse from a team that really should be tired of them by this point.
On Wednesday night, Dickey couldn't provide a respite from the brutal losing and it wound up costing him more than just a chance to win his 16th game of the year.
In the second inning, the umpires forced Dickey to remove a pair of friendship bracelets his daughters gave him before his offseason trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Why these bracelets were so offensive remains a great mystery -- especially when you see this picture of Felix Hernandez wearing a bracelet while pitching a perfect game on Wednesday -- but the move clearly generated a righteous bit of rage in Dickey.
Umpires are increasingly irrelevant in an age when replay should have long ago made them little more than the first opinion on calls that once belonged only to them. Nonsense like this is their way of asserting their place, even if they'd do a much better job of it by simply being better at their jobs.
As evidence of this we present the above picture of crew chief Jim Joyce admonishing Dickey for wearing gifts from his daughters. You'll recall that Joyce is the umpire whose inability to distinguish safe from out cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game of his own.
Joyce wound up a hero because he admitted he didn't know how to do his job correctly. That's nice, although it also feels like a giant honking neon sign for how far down the wrong track we're on when calling incompetence by its proper name represents something to celebrate.
The whole thing is stupid, obviously, but it's not like the Mets are being singled out for this kind of stupidity and it's not like they don't engage in it themselves. On Tuesday night, Terry Collins made a stink about the pockets of Reds pitcher Mat Latos on the way to a shutout loss.
The pockets weren't the reason the Mets got blanked for the third time in a week, a point driven home by the fact that their only run on Wednesday night came on a double play that wiped out a chance for a bigger inning. And while Dickey might have been thrown off by the ridiculous umpire request to snip his bracelets, that kind of "offense" probably guaranteed the Mets a loss unless Dickey got his Hernandez on.
Dickey didn't get his Hernandez on and the Mets lost 6-1 as a result. He gave up three homers and five runs in six innings, numbers that are just ugly enough to make it hard to think that being asked to remove bracelets (in a scoreless inning, as it happens) was the reason why things went south.
As in just about every other loss this season, the Mets were beaten because they simply aren't a very good team and they have combined a sense of utter lifelessness with their lack of talent in the second half. As far as formulas for success go, this one ranks pretty darn low on the list.
They aren't done trying things. A six-man rotation designed to protect the arms of Johan Santana, Chris Young and Matt Harvey (note: if you need to protect the arms of three pitchers in your rotation, you aren't moving in the right direction) is the latest gambit, but it isn't likely to create anything particularly different in the result column.
After all, you can change the bracelets and change the size of the rotation but you can't change 20 or 21 members of the team at this point and that means the Mets will continue trending downward until the season mercifully comes to an end.