SAN FRANCISCO -- Due up fourth in the first inning, Carlos Beltran stood on the top step of the visitor's dugout at AT&T Park, helmet on, bat in hand. With two outs and a man on first, it was his turn to bat. So Beltran said a quick prayer, stepped up to the plate and, after watching a few Tim Lincecum pitches whiz by, flied out to center. He was pleased.

"I felt like it was my first at-bat in the big leagues," Beltran said. "I guess as a player when you feel like that, it really shows that at least I still have a passion for what I do."

Had Lincecum not blanked the Mets for nine innings, it might have even been a triumphant return for Beltran. As it was, he recorded one hit -- a single -- in a 2-0 loss to Lincecum and the Giants. Opening the second half of the season against the two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, there was little that Beltran or anyone else could do.

"You come back and face a guy that fresh, that sharp," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said, "it's a little bit tough."

It was Beltran, in his first game back from January knee surgery, who recorded one of the Mets' six hits off Lincecum, Beltran who gave the Mets hope when he batted with one out in the ninth. Rather than spark some dramatic comeback, however, the five-time All-Star grounded out to second base -- a popular outcome for Mets hitters on this night.

Against Lincecum, Beltran finished 1-for-4. The rest of the Mets were 5-for-28.

"It's hard to say it's his best because he has thrown some outstanding games," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But he had command of all of his pitches, had good stuff. He just did a great job out there."

It was a difficult outcome for losing pitcher R.A. Dickey, who held the Giants to one run over seven innings. When Pablo Sandoval doubled home Buster Posey with two outs in the second, Dickey knew that against Lincecum, there was a chance that run might stand up.

And it did.

"Any time you're going up against a guy of that caliber -- he's a two-time Cy Young winner -- you're going to have to hold them down," Dickey said. "It's just a fact. You don't pitch any harder than you would any other day, but mentally you know there's a lot less room for mistakes."

It was Beltran, too, who made a critical mistake, thrown out attempting to steal second base after his one-out single in the fourth. Joking afterward that "too many coffees and too much sugar" contributed to his decision, Beltran -- who did not attempt a straight steal in 14 Minor League rehab games -- was unable to slide in ahead of shortstop Juan Uribe's tag.

There were other imperfections, also, for Beltran. In the first inning, Beltran stuttered back for a moment before ranging in to make a running grab of Aubrey Huff's fly ball. In the fourth, Beltran nearly ran into left fielder Jason Bay on another routine fly.

Such are the effects of missing all of Spring Training and the entire first half of the season due to injury. Beltran is not 100 percent, and he admittedly doesn't know when he might reach that level.

But the Mets, who scored an average of 1.8 runs per game in their last five games before the All-Star break, are all too happy to have him back. Eventually, the Mets figure -- if not today, if not tomorrow, if not against Lincecum -- he can help their offense take flight.

"After being out for so long and going through a very long process, I was happy," Beltran said of his season debut. "I know my family was happy. And all the fans that care about me, I know they're happy also."

The Mets were not happy when the bullpen allowed a second Giants run in the eighth, providing Lincecum with some wiggle room to record his fourth career shutout and his first since last June. They were not happy when they were unable to score against Lincecum in the fifth, despite putting their first two runners on base. And they were not happy when Ike Davis grounded out against Lincecum to end the game.

But the perspective of this one was more important than the outcome. The Mets may have lost, but they lost to one of the best pitchers in the game. And they now have an eager Beltran back in the lineup.

"I see it as a second chance," Beltran said. "God has given me a second chance to play the game."