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The Value of a Good Butt-Kicking

The Mets got their butts kicked in Baltimore on Tuesday night.

Things went just fine at the outset, as Francisco Lindor [1] walked and Pete Alonso [2] hit a line drive into the left-field stands for a quick 2-0 lead. But David Peterson [3] struggled through the first, gave up three in the second and was excused further duties after getting through two-thirds of a painful third, his second straight start ended by early difficulties. As they did in Arizona — a Plan B I witnessed [4] from the Griswold, Conn., Park & Ride — the Mets asked Robert Gsellman [5] to ride to the rescue. But this time the cavalry arrived and got riddled with arrows, as Gsellman was dinged for a run in the fourth and watched Maikel Franco [6] unload on a three-run homer in the fifth. That made it 8-2 Orioles, and with the Mets unable to scratch further against Bruce Zimmermann [7], the competitive portion of the evening’s baseball viewing was over [8]. Jacob Barnes [9] and Drew Smith [10] gave up an additional run each, and Alonso offered a small bit of solace by connecting for his second homer of the night.

What’s to be done with Peterson? The obvious answer would be to send him down to Syracuse to work out his issues a little farther from the bright lights, with reestablishing command of his slider the most glaring need. (And as noted in The Athletic [11], this kind of regression should have been expected about now for a young pitcher, seeing how curtailed Peterson’s rookie season was.) But there’s no obvious replacement: Carlos Carrasco [12] and Noah Syndergaard [13] are coming along more slowly than the Mets would like; Thomas Szapucki [14] hasn’t thrown a big-league pitch; Franklyn Kilome [15] didn’t look ready for prime time in a cameo last year; and Jerad Eickhoff [16] is basically a warm body at this point. You could make the case for easing Gsellman into the rotation, as he’s generally been better than he was Tuesday, but that will take time and have a domino effect on the relief corps. The Mets could turn to the trade market, of course, but until we know who and how, that’s pointless speculation.

And remember the Mets are about to have all those deferred games from earlier in the year come due: They’ll play 33 in 31 days starting on Friday and then nine in seven days after the All-Star break. Odds are they’ll need everybody on the above list plus Peterson to get through that stretch, regardless of what’s best for disobedient sliders and young hurlers’ learning curves.

Looking longer term, this will of course work itself out, possibly in ways we find gratifying and possibly in ways we will recall with muttering and stormy looks. As Tuesday’s game cratered, I did the only thing one can after discovering the KICK ME sign is there for the night — I shrugged and let it be.

I won’t claim it’s one of my favorite things about baseball, or even high up on the list, but it’s a good thing that part of fandom is absorbing the occasional butt-kicking. A great football team can dream of going undefeated — there’s a reason the remaining ’72 Dolphins pop Champagne every time their perfect season remains the latest on the books — but even the mightiest baseball roster is guaranteed 50-odd defeats in a season. And somewhere between five and 10 of those defeats are going to involve that KICK ME sign, with relievers hiding under the stands and everyone else just waiting for it to be over. That means if you’re faithful fan who watches even the debacles to the end (a recommendation, not a commandment), the greatest season of your life will still feature 15 to 30 hours of watching your team get beaten like a drum. And I think that’s a good thing, given our world’s appetite for speed and volume at the expense of reflection and nuance.

If that sounds like masochism, well, if you’re in the fifth inning of a debacle, reflection is all you’ve got left. And some of my fondest baseball memories are of games at Shea or Citi Field where the Mets were absolutely getting strafed, with position players bravely attesting to their long-ago high-school glories on the mound. The games have (mercifully) faded from memory, but the conversations are still there to be recalled fondly. There’s a freedom to such games — they’re blank canvases to be filled with baseball memories, free associations, good-natured arguments, personal histories and anything else that the proximity of baseball, or at least something resembling it, brings to mind. Think of them as free spaces on your fan bingo card, once you no longer have any need to chew your nails or channel superstitions time-tested or newly invented.

That’s more than enough, but maybe there’s something more. Maybe, just maybe, it’s also that by bearing witness to a butt-kicking, we’re banking a little good karma. We’re sticking around to hold the patient’s hand, and maybe that loyalty gets recorded on some celestial scorecard, noted as an investment to be repaid down the road — perhaps it’s the seed of the next epic comeback that we’ll spend years telling everyone we saw. Or maybe that karma gets banked somewhere even more valuable, added to a reservoir we can draw on in our lives for things even more important than baseball.

Probably not. Almost certainly not. But it’s nice to think about it. And it’s the kind of thing that comes to mind when it’s 9-2 and there’s an hour of futility yet to come.