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That Still Only Counts as One

I really thought I had MLB At Bat licked.

Volunteer duties and a kayaking trip kept me away from the Mets’ matinee against the Nats (I know, smallest of violins) and my post-vacation brain forgot to set the DVR to record the game. So when I arrived home a little before 8, my path to semi-responsible recapping required being able to navigate MLB At Bat to get to the archived game, ideally without revealing how that archived game had turned out.

And it almost worked.

I stayed off my phone while away — no angst from Mets Twitter, no postgame notes emailed by the club. Firing up At Bat, I covered the score with my hand and got to the option to watch a game without seeing the score — and got the archived SNY broadcast to start playing. Yes!

Next step: mirror my phone on the TV. Which worked. Double yes!

It worked for about five seconds. Then darkness. Ugh!

So I tried again, this time through the Apple TV app. Success on the first part: I covered the score and pulled up the interface for watching the archived game.

Except there was the score, helpfully placed smack in the middle of my TV set: WAS 15 NYM 0.

Well shit. On so many levels.

And then, because I was bone tired and unable to move from the couch, I actually watched a game I knew would turn out that way.

It’s kind of funny watching 15-0 unfold while not knowing how things went horribly, horribly wrong. I imagined 15-0 meant an implosion and an early exit for Steven Matz [1], but he was out there inning after inning, doggedly putting up a zero and doggedly putting up with doing his job in public with MATZY on his back. (Oh, a lament for the golden age of baseball nicknames. Once we had the Sultan of Swat, the Splendid Splinter and even Death to Flying Things; now it’s the era of Choose the Most Obvious Diminutive.)

Meanwhile, it seemed like young Jefry Rodriguez [2] was about to come apart like a cheap watch. He kept falling behind hitter after hitter as the Met batters pushed him deeper into counts and scrutinized his entire arsenal, like burglars sizing up a property’s defenses. Surely Rodriguez would get ambushed this inning. No, this inning. Hmm, OK, but surely it will be this inning. I already knew it would be none of those innings, but it was still strange to see him escape the reckoning that always seemed to be at hand.

As for Matz, he finally cracked in the sixth, letting in a run on a Juan Soto [3] grounder too slow to interrupt Trea Turner [4]‘s dash home, but he departed down just 1-0. Going to the top of the eighth, the game was still a pitcher’s duel, a nail-biter with another plot twist or two likely and plenty of reasons to be hopeful as a Mets fan. Maybe Todd Frazier [5] would run into another one. Maybe Wilmer Flores [6] would play late-inning hero. Perhaps Jose Bautista [7] had another bat flip in him. Perhaps the coming of Tomas Nido [8] was nigh.

I knew none of that was going to happen — and not in that Doomed Mets Fan way of knowing, but the less mythic variant where the game was over and I’d seen the final score. But it was still bizarre to be at the top of the precipice, aware that one kind of game was about to turn into a very different kind.

The kind where your team’s relievers are out there on the mound for nearly half an hour — and then nearly as long in the ninth. Yeah, that kind.

Paul Sewald [9], Tyler Bashlor [10], and Corey Oswalt [11] all wound up crawling back to the dugout after a frightful beating, making Matz’s duel with Rodriguez feel like it had happened days earlier. I mean, Bryce Harper [12] started the game in the hospital with an IV in his arm and ended it with 43 RBIs. Or something like that. Close enough, really.

Still, I’m going to count the experience as a first and probably last: I watched an entire game I knew my team was fated to lose 15-0 [13]. Please schedule my intervention.

* * *

Before we turn the page to Chicago and its resident Cubs, a little about the Nats.

This is a franchise I’ve had my differences with. I remain outraged by their unretiring the Expos’ numbers and their generally shameful refusal to admit that they are the Expos in a new guise instead of some┬áthird incarnation of the Washington Senators. Those two franchises exist, are known as the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers, and are connected to the Nats only by geography. Period, full stop.

When I started visiting D.C. for Nats games, the dearth of baseball knowledge in the crowd left me stunned and openly derisive. At RFK Nats fans would leap to their feet, cheering wildly, for fly balls that the second baseman was already camped under — and not just once, but over and over again. By the fifth inning I’d be sprawled in my seat, rolling my eyes and braying “LOOK AT THE FIELDERS” while the home fans tired themselves out all over again. And if you think that’s something, my pal Will Leitch recalls attending a Cardinals-Nats game in which fans kept pestering Albert Pujols [14] to sign autographs from the on-deck circle. Yes, during the game.

Clearly, with baseball having gone missing for a couple of generations, the home crowd had a lot of catching up to do. That’s mostly happened: now Nats crowds strike me as pretty much like those you find elsewhere, with booze-soaked partisans and unkempt OCD scorekeepers and moms and dads in explainer mode and every other fan type you’ll find yourself sharing a row with.

And those Nats fans have the baseball-fan equivalent of hair on their chest, because the Nats have been through some shit. Bad clubhouses, regular-season collapses, fizzled postseason series, strategic controversies that will live forever — if you can name it, it’s happened to this franchise and fanbase.

Including this year.

Let’s be clear: The 2018 Mets are a tire fire, one that’s burned with particular noxiousness because of that 11-1 start that wound up meaning jack shit. But the 2018 Mets’ ceiling was an slightly-above-.500 team that could overperform or get lucky. The 2018 Nats’ ceiling was to win the World Series, and its floor was to win the division. They haven’t done either; instead they may finish under .500. The Mets are a disappointment, but the Nats are a smoking crater.

That arouses no pity in me — I’m still pissed about the retired numbers and the mucked-up record books and the general disrespect for team history. But I don’t make fun of Nats fans any more. They’ve earned their stripes through searing disappointment after searing disappointment. It’s been a brutal initiation into the baseball ranks, but an effective one. And when they are finally rewarded for it all, I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy for them.