. . . in DC, for those of us who call ourselves Nationals fans. The Nats’ collapse was excruciating, and epic; 6-0 lead with your ace on the mound? Sigh. And coming, as it did, 24 hours after the exhilaration of one of the great postseason moments in history – Jayson Werth’s walk-off homerun on the 13th pitch of his at-bat leading off the bottom of the ninth inning the night before, a Mazeroski- or Fisk-like moment for the absurdly long-suffering DC baseball fans [and if you haven’t heard radio broadcaster Charlie Slowes’ call of the homer, listen here – it’s a little masterpiece of the broadcaster’s art] – made it doubly, quadruply, awful.
Twice, in the 9th, they were a strike away from victory, and twice the Cardinals, just as they did last year against the Rangers in Game 6 of the World Series, snatched it back. [At least the Cardinals had the decency, last year, to do it in their home stadium; it’s somehow even crueler when it involves 49,000 people who’ve suppressed a scream for 3 hours and are then denied that final release. I had the misfortune, in 2000, to go to the semi-finals of the European Soccer Championship, held that year in Amsterdam, where the Dutch lost to the Italians after hitting the post 3 times and missing five – yes, five – penalty kicks, and I can tell you, that ride back on the subway was a scary and depressing experience ...]. As it happens, my oldest friend, from kindergarten at PS 193 in Brooklyn (at a time when the Dodgers – damn you, Walter O’Malley, damn you to hell! – were still in town), has spent the last 30 years of his life as the broadcaster for the Rangers. [Eric was honored this year for his service to the team with induction into the Rangers Hall of Fame – as I told him at the time, you would’ve gotten long odds, back in the day, that someone from Mrs. Wisch’s kindergarten classroom would make it someday into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame . . . “The soundtrack of a Texas summer evening,” someone called him at the induction ceremony – and if he doesn’t put that on his tombstone, I’ll kill him]. After the Rangers collapse last year he was pretty devastated – and right after the game ended last night, he emailed me: F**ing Cardinals. I know how you feel.”
The thing about sports is that the pain is real pain. “Pain,” as Marcus Aurelius put it (and as modern neuroscience has more or less confirmed), “is just the vivid impression of pain”; it’s not an inherent characteristic of the thing causing the pain, it’s the mind’s response to the thing that constitutes its painfulness. Even though the sufferers know perfectly well that it doesn’t really matter in the greater scheme of things that a bunch of guys wearing “Nationals” on their uniforms lost a big game, the pain isn’t “just as bad” as the pain when something really, seriously bad happens – it’s “the same as” that pain. It’s rather mysterious that it has that feature – the perfect Aristotelian catharsis, the pain and anguish just like “real” pain and anguish for the sufferer – but undeniable that it does.