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Clarifying Losses

The idea that there can be losses that are also moral victories is a trap sentimental sports fans need to avoid: Nobody gets an extra win because they had an exceptional year in the LMV column. But chiefly in March, there is such a thing as a clarifying loss.

You know what I mean: You hear that the Mets have lost a spring-training game, and your first thought isn’t about the W-L record or the standings or the upcoming schedule. It’s to hope is that some scrub got pounded or made a frightful error. Let the blame fall on a poor schmo with a number in the 70s whose real clock doesn’t start for a couple of years yet, or on some moth-eaten veteran in camp for a sympathetic look-see, or on some replacement-level player who doesn’t particularly matter in the moderate scheme of things.

For instance, today: The Cardinals beat the Mets, 5-3, in a game I saw not one second of. R.A. Dickey did just fine, giving up one earned run in 5 1/3. The goat was Manny Acosta, helped out by Luis Hernandez, who made an error. Tim Byrdak pitched OK. And that’s a wrap, Mets fans.

Manny Acosta is eminently replaceable, a one-pitch reliever. Luis Hernandez is the kind of player so beloved by Omar Minaya that it’s a miracle he isn’t stuck with an option giving him $3 million if he has 11 at-bats. It’s never fun losing a game, but if you’re going to, best to have the loss be one in which on-the-bubble relievers and interchangeable middle infielders are the guys who lose it.

I’m not claiming this is science — spring training is entirely too small a sample size to be worthy of the term — but it’s clarifying. In all likelihood, that’s farewell Manny Acosta to the waiver wire, reducing the derby for last reliever to Izzy, Pat Misch and Blaine Boyer. And Hernandez’s gaffe should make Brad Emaus’s road clearer. Two fewer questions and a day closer to games that count.

You can have clarifying losses from April through October, too — of course. But those leave a mark. As losses go, I like these better.