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Time for Your Beating

The picture to take away from Sunday’s 13-4 drubbing [1] at the hands of the Rockies was Steven Matz trudging across a suddenly hostile mound looking like he’d been told to move a hundred bags of concrete from one place to another for no satisfactory reason.

Well, unless you tuned in a little bit late, in which case you had no picture of Matz to take away at all.

Matz was excused further duty after giving up nine hits and seven runs, all earned, in what officially goes down as one inning but counted in baseball parlance as “one inning plus.” Which is an odd bit of baseball vocabulary, since that plus is always a minus — “one inning plus the ineffectual stuff you did at the beginning of the next inning.” Or, to be more specific, the line of agate that needed to be added to Sunday’s box score: “Matz pitched to 4 batters in the 2nd.”

Pitched to four batters and retired none: the sequence was double, single, three-run homer, single, someone who isn’t you will pitch now. And that capped a sequence in which Matz pitched to 10 guys and allowed nine of them to reach base, retiring only the opposing pitcher. Those results are about as bad as they can get for someone occupying a major-league mound.

Still, while what Matz endured was indubitably a fearful and pitiable beating, it’s not like it was unprecedented or even uncommon for the team as a whole — for any team. This is yet another of baseball’s wonderful attributes, though generally not the one that leaps to mind when it’s your team rolled into a ball and waiting for it to be over.

Football fans can dream of an undefeated season, or at least a two- or three-month stretch in which defeat will be for other people. If you’re a baseball fan, half a week without a loss puts a certain strut in your step; a week of unalloyed victory means everybody’s starting to talk about you. No matter what team you are — the ’27 Yankees, the ’86 Mets, the suddenly unstoppable ’17 Dodgers — a loss is always lurking in the near-future, and sooner or later you’re going to not just lose but also get mashed. Half an hour in defeat will be assured, yet there will be three hours of unpleasantness yet to go, and the clubhouse hero will be the reliever who remained stoic while taking the largest portion of that unpleasantness — with a participant trophy for you, the fan, provided you hung around to bear witness the whole thing.

Too many such beatings and even a loyal fan will wind up woebegone, then absent. But the occasional beating is clarifying, grounding and a useful reminder that you never know — and you’d never want to.