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What the F?

His name was Dr. Lago. He left Cuba years before and wound up teaching Spanish in my junior high. He was what you’d kindly call irascible. The translation of irascible en Español is also irascible, which is good information to retain in case he calls on me. Not much chance of that more than forty years — or cuarenta años — after I somehow passed his class, but some teachers haunt you into making certain you stay prepared.

Suburban legend had it that Dr. Lago once gave a student an F-minus on a test. F-minus didn’t exist within the school’s grading system, but it’s hard to imagine that would stop Dr. Lago. The student in question protested that an F-minus seemed rather harsh. Dr. Lago was usually rigid in his decisionmaking and didn’t tolerate a lot of pleading for mercy, but he was intermittently capable of surprising. In this case, he considered the student’s point for a moment, took back the paper from him and, miracle of miracles, returned it with the grade raised.

“All right,” Dr. Lago conceded grudgingly, “I give you F…” Then, to make certain the student understood in any language just how magnanimous a gesture this was, he added an addendum:

“…but you are not F student.”

I’d never heard of a teacher seriously giving an F-minus before I heard this story, but then again, I’d never heard of a 25-4 loss until I watched the Mets fail remedial baseball on Tuesday night. When you lose a ballgame by 21 runs, maybe you need to schedule an appointment with your guidance counselor.

The F-minus boys from Tuesday [1] showed themselves to be quick learners for the Wednesday matinee in Washington, proving themselves capable of failing in something approximating normal fashion. Such progress is truly impressive in the context of 25-4. At this rate, the Mets stand an excellent chance of graduating to 2019.

God help us all if we have to repeat 2018.

Instead of falling behind by seven runs in the first inning as they did on Tuesday, Wednesday’s Mets trailed only 1-0 almost immediately. And at the stage where the Tuesday Mets were down by thirteen and on their third pitcher, their successors stuck with Noah Syndergaard [2], who was determined to keep the Nationals’ line score totals from resembling the ZIP Code for Millstone, W. Va. [3] The Mets were behind, 3-0, by then and would stay down all afternoon (hey, how ya gonna hit the great Tommy Milone?), but at least they didn’t retreat to an underground bunker. This was indeed a step in an encouraging direction. From all available evidence, Noah didn’t contract any further childhood diseases as he continued pitching for seven innings, the last several of them quite solid. As far as we know, he avoided a relapse of his infamous bout of hand, foot and mouth disease and managed to not pick up whatever forearm-tightening malady [4] laid Steven Matz low (and catapulted Matz’s earned run average high).

Of course the Mets lost, anyway [5]. Not being an F-minus team didn’t suddenly transform them into a band of baseball scholars. They lost by the mundane score of 5-3, the kind of final that can be quietly filed away in the cabinet where the bulk of the Mets’ myriad relatively unremarkable 2018 defeats are kept. Other than Syndergaard’s conditionally encouraging comeback and Jose Reyes  [6]homering from each side of the plate (do not adjust your screen), Wednesday’s contest indeed resulted in just another loss.

The 25-4 Game, on the other hand, other foot and other mouth, can’t be contained to a single drawer or a single file cabinet. The 25-4 Game already has an annex devoted to it. Losing 25-4 goes on your permanent record.

Make no mistake about it — losing 25-4 is a millstone. Yet I have to confess that once 7-0 became 10-0, and 10-0 became 13-0, I was rooting for history. Or HI27ORY. If you’re absolutely, positively gonna lose, lose big. Lose like nobody’s watching. Lose so that you can’t take your eyes off it. When 13-0 is ballooning to 16-0, embarrassment is hardly at stake. We thought the Mets’ participation in the frenzied trade deadline had come and gone with nothing but Jack Reinheimer [7] to show for it? Listen, Jack, we may have been beyond 4 PM on Tuesday, but we weren’t beyond shopping our last shred of dignity.

So yeah, I hoped every record for Met futility would be bested. Or worsted. You’re gonna get blown out, don’t suddenly turn off the reverse-vacuum. Keep that contraption blowing. My specific goal was obliterating 26-7. Mint silver medals for Von Hayes and all those Phillies [8] from June 11, 1985, and snatch their gold. Give up at least 27 runs this time around. Lose by at least 20 runs in the process. Make this one a night to remember.

A Night to Remember, incidentally, is the name of a movie about the Titanic sinking. Not that the Mets are particularly titanic these days, but they’re not constructed soundly, either.

At 19-0 barely halfway through Tuesday, I thought we had a shot, but then Jerry Blevins had to nearly spoil it all by doing something stupid like getting Nationals out in the fifth and sixth. Drew Smith did the same in the seventh. The deck chairs seemed sufficiently rearranged. As bad…as F’in bad…as the Mets were, I no longer thought they were bad enough to take down the ghosts of Veterans Stadium. Matz, Rhame, Peterson and Bashlor were genuinely atrocious in assuming their mantles as the four horsemen of the nineteen-run apocalypse, but it appeared they’d be no match for the collective efforts of Tom Gorman (0.1 IP, 6 R), Calvin Schiraldi (1.1 IP, 10 R) and Joe Sambito (3 IP, 10 R). It’s one thing to helplessly give up 26 runs in one game. It’s another thing to expect 26 runs to easily give up its perversely exalted place in Mets history.

Alas, 26 runs still stands in all its ingloriousness, but it surely teetered on the brink of extinction, and that’s pretty perversely impressive in its own right. When it was 19-1, Mickey Callaway demonstrated as much imagination as he has all season and threw Jose Reyes at those 26 stubborn runs from 1985. The ploy almost worked, as Jose’s career ERA of 54.00 clearly attests, though I didn’t believe this was the honorable way to pursue putrid immortality. While I had been steadfastly rooting for 27 (or, more accurately, for 26 to be erased), using a position player to get there seemed somehow unsporting. Call me old-fashioned, but if you’re going to challenge the standard for most runs surrendered, you shouldn’t surrender them with position players who’ve never pitched. You should surrender them with authentic relievers who’ve rarely pitched well. Otherwise, there’s no earthly reason to maintain a roster spot for Paul Sewald.

Pitch Jose Reyes? Why not just issue oodles of abra-ca-dabra intentional walks until home plate is covered in National cleatmarks? Hell, we could still be losing that very same game by hundreds of runs.

In the end, past and present were served. Twenty-six remains the record for most runs allowed by the Mets in one game, and twenty-one is the new record for largest margin the Mets have lost a game by. We can still invoke Hayes and his pair of first-inning home runs when necessary, yet we now also can frame for eternity the image of Reyes nicking Ryan Zimmerman in the leg and Zimmerman barely controlling his giggles. Joke’s on Zimmerman. All Jose needed to get his bat going was loosening up his pitching arm. Two home runs given up one night and two home runs launched deep the next day. National League East beware: The Reyesnaissance is on at last.

I kind of hoped Syndergaard would start Wednesday by transmitting the same kind of message to Nats leadoff hitter Adam Eaton that he once upon a time stuck in the ear of Alcides Escobar. Let Thor announce his presence with authority. Let him tell our ostensible archrivals, “Enough of this crap.” Alas, the ethos we associate with the 2015 World Series at its best resides three years later more than sixty feet, six inches away. Besides, Noah had other priorities in Washington. Like shaking off the aftereffects of Coxackievirus. Like not spreading it to Kevin Plawecki. Like not planting his ass in anybody’s jackpot in the bottom of the first and inadvertently getting the Mets bullpen involved early and often again. One blowout of 19 to 21 runs every 33 years is a novelty.

Any more often than that, and you are not F student.