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Artistic Cruelty

By definition, extra-inning losses are cruel. To come so far, battling and staving off ruination, only to have it arrive anyway? That always hurts.

To that, let us add the noncontroversial contract rider that extra-inning road losses are crueler still. Ruin, when it comes, leaves you stuck in mid-gesture, on a field where nothing you do matters anymore.

And to that, another rider: extra-inning road losses on the West Coast are another level of cruel, because it’s the middle of the night and you’ll suffer for it the next day and the non-baseball fans cluttering up life will question your decision-making. (“You stayed up until 3 a.m.? Really? Well, did they win?”)

We’ll get to more cruelty in a bit, but for now let’s rewind. Thursday night/Friday morning’s Mets-Giants tilt began with a rather different narrative: Noah Syndergaard [1] and Madison Bumgarner [2], once more locked in an electric pitcher’s duel. Sure, this one was for a lot lower stakes than the game where Conor Gillaspie [3] Did That [4], but it still had its significance: Bumgarner may never throw a pitch as a Giant again, and Syndergaard is a subject of at least lukewarm trade talk as well. (On the other hand, the Giants have made an unlikely run back into contention, and if the Mets trade Syndergaard I will hold my breath until I die, not that Jeff Wilpon cares.)

Both pitchers were more than up for the challenge. Bumgarner was scratched for a first-inning run but essentially untouchable for eight innings after that, and even lobbied to pitch the 10th — the equivalent of a total solar eclipse in this era of pitch counts and reliever specialization. Syndergaard was just as good, his night marred only by a fourth inning in which the Giants ambushed his fastball (and would have inflicted more damage if not for a simultaneously awkward and nifty snag by J.D. Davis [5]).

Syndergaard has had a strange season, in large part because whatever the hell has happened to the ball has forced him to reinvent his slider on the battlefield. Slider 2.0 was in full effect Tuesday night, both on its own and as a complement to Syndergaard’s deadly fastball: After Alex Dickerson [6] led off the bottom of the second with a triple, Syndergaard went to work, fanning Brandon Crawford [7] and Mike Yastrzemski [8] and popping up Kevin Pillar [9]. In case someone at Whatever They’re Calling It This Year Park wasn’t sufficiently impressed, he then turned another leadoff triple into nothing in the seventh, with the highlight his confrontation with Bumgarner as a hitter.

With both starters out of the game, the affair became Reliever Roulette, which is not a contest I’d recommend Mets fans play. (“Five bullets in six chambers? I like my chances!”) Games like that become a succession of disastrous storylines appearing one by one for their auditions, like so:

“Oh God, Seth Lugo [10] is going to have a bad outing and then there will be no one we trust.”

(Nope.)

“It’s funny, but Luis Avilan [11] has been on the roster most of the year and I basically can’t think of anything when his name comes up. That will change after this ends horribly.”

(No.)

“Hoo boy, Edwin Diaz [12]. Maybe one day we’ll understand what the hell went wrong this year, and this horrible loss will be part of the discussion.”

(All was well.)

Jeurys Familia [13]‘s looked better of late. That’s called being set up for a shot to the jaw. We are such suckers.”

(Nah.)

“Oh goddamnit, Robert Gsellman [14] is gonna get a walkoff loss for his birthday, isn’t he?”

(He did not.)

“A couple of weeks ago I was sitting eight feet from Justin Wilson [15] while he warmed up on rehab for the Cyclones, and didn’t recognize him. The universe will now have its revenge.”

(The universe didn’t care.)

Meanwhile, the Mets were just as frustrated by a parade of Giants relievers. It looked like they had Will Smith [16] beaten in the 10th, what with second and third and none out. But Smith threw approximately six million low-and-away sliders to fan Tomas Nido [17], Michael Conforto [18] and — most startlingly — Jeff McNeil [19]. That was suboptimal, to say the least.

Eventually, what with a 14th-inning stretch and all, the game passed through the storyline auditions phase and into helpless shrug territory. Perhaps a position player would be thrown to the wolves, an ejection would leave one team with eight eligible players and send everyone to the rulebooks, or the aerial gyre of seagulls would develop a collective taste for man flesh and the game would be called on account of carnivorous perils.

Or maybe nothing would happen and the game would pass into Inning 227,298, with pilgrims from across the world coming to watch stooped Mets and Giants with six-foot beards and shredded, faded rags swing their splintered bats at coverless balls and shriek for the gods to release them from their torment.

That would have been cruel — but not much more cruel than what actually happened, which was that Pete Alonso [20] clubbed a homer to give the Mets a 2-1 lead, except Chris Mazza [21] — lanky with a certain mien of ironic acceptance — went out for a second inning of work and didn’t record a single out. Double, double, HBP, single that somehow didn’t score the fatal run, another single that did, and then it was 2:30 a.m. and you were left blinking and amazed and defeated [22].

It wasn’t a bad game — in fact, it was nearly five hours of pretty compelling baseball. But it was a cruel one, however artistic the delivery of that cruelty might have been. And it was one that will leave a mark.