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Keith Strudler: Not Even Close

If you play sports long enough, you will find yourself on the back end of a lopsided defeat. 

It happens in some sports more than others– say, football for example, where size and speed differentials can often evolve into blowout affairs. It’s particularly acute in any youth sport, where teams aren’t inherently even like they are elite sports, with its market demands and evitable socialism. I’ve been in my share of embarrassing defeats, including a 12-0 youth soccer loss and having the privilege of being a part of a college cross country team that amassed the highest point total in the history of our conference championships. As an FYI, in cross county, big numbers are bad.

Pretty much any parent has endured this kind of sporting spectacle from the bleachers. My oldest son was once on a basketball team that never held the lead at any point in any game. All season. It’s tough to watch, but I suppose yet another price of parenthood. Now, it’s less common to see this kind of inequity at the professional level, where supposedly everyone involved is pretty good. Even bad professional sports teams tend to play close games. They just don’t usually win them. That’s not necessarily the case for the New York Mets, at least not last night. For anyone who cared to pay attention past the first few stanzas, the Mets lost 25-4 to the Washington Nationals, who are, to be accurate, a .500 team in their division. This game was exceptional in many regards. For example, it was the highest scoring game in Nationals history, I assume including their previous life as the Montreal Expos. It’s also the worst ever defeat for the Mets, although to be fair, they did once allow 27 runs in a game. At one point during last night’s match, New York was down 25-1. It was 7-0 by the end of the first inning. The loss went to Steven Matz, but really, a lot of people deserved credit. That includes short stop Jose Reyes, who came in as an emergency closer just before they pulled up the guy selling hot dogs in the bleachers. And Reyes threw just as you’d expect a short shop who dreamed of one day getting a chance to pitch might throw.

Mets broadcasters treated the contest just as you’d expect them to– by reading the media guide word for word and playing theme music from Masterpiece Theater simply to pass the time. In a sport with a 162-game season where no individual game counts that much, this game was particularly meaningless.

Interestingly, the Mets weren’t the only ones to endure a historic loss this past week. Serena Williams only won a single game in a two-set loss to Johanna Konta in the first round of a tournament in California. For Serena, this is easily explained as part of the uneven comeback after both childbirth and ensuing health complications. Yet it does defy her recent runner-up finish in Wimbledon. Regardless, it was somewhat shocking to see Serena Williams leave a tennis court after only 52 minutes with anything other than a demoralizing victory. I assume that Serena will recover in short order – something I’m not certain about the Mets, whose season is perhaps just a bit short of expectations.

Which raises the question, is there value in losing? Not just a close loss, or a near miss, which becomes fodder for off-season training to get over the hump. I’m talking about soul-sucking, emasculating, blowout defeat, where you wonder if someone might secretly be on the take. I suppose in some regard, losing builds character and perhaps engenders humility, something most professional athletes have on relatively short supply. It might also remind everyone that sport, like life, is a highly unpredictable enterprise. Which means that on some days, everything that could go wrong actually does. That’s something to remember the next time you only give yourself an hour and a half for parking and security at LaGuardia. And maybe, just maybe, it shows a team the biggest holes in their tool box. Like for the Mets, pitching. And then everything else.

I’m not sure that’s real solace for anyone who had to endure last night’s Mets game. Although, it should be reminded, watching sports is a choice, not a mandate. But I will say this. I always found blowout losses far more palatable than close defeats – as a fan or a participant. I suppose you never build false hope over what might have been. At no point last night did the Mets dream about how sweet victory might taste. That’s something. Then again, so is 25-4.

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