My favorite quote from the last several days of Major League baseball came from Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. He said: “This is a baffling game.” How true it is. In fact, only days before that Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker said something very similar.
The utterances relate to the fact that not even managers can figure out why stuff happens on the diamond, why one minute a pitcher is being rocked for eight runs in two-thirds of an inning and the next time out he is pitching a two-hitter, or why one day the clean-up hitter goes four-for-four and the next day he strikes out four times.
Just last week the Cleveland Indians were swept by the Boston Red Sox and had a five-game losing streak going. I saw a cousin from Cleveland at the end of the week and he was already giving up on the season. That day the Indians scored 19 runs on 22 hits.
The Reds had a five-game losing streak going and they came home to Great American Ball Park and promptly won four in a row and six out of seven.
Perennial All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay had a lousy spring training and began the season with two losses and an earned run average that resembled the distance from here to Mars. Then he won two straight for the Phils and looked as good as ever.
Barry Zito, who had been just about untouchable since October’s playoffs, was shelled for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings for the San Francisco Giants and in his next start pitched shutout ball through seven.
As fans each time we see the pendulum swing we go “Wow” because we can barely believe the extremes. How would you like to be a manager counting on steady production from the same people with your livelihood on the line? Not too much stress, huh?
Remember in the movie “Bull Durham” Crash Davis sagely notes that you never mess with a streak. That means any habit that can be construed to bring you good luck must be maintained during the winning streak. Davis employed the thought devilishly to talk Luke Laloosh out of sex with Susan Sarandan, but the point was made. The all-encompassing superstitious mode meant wearing the same underwear and socks day after day, eating the same thing, going to bed the same time, not stepping on the white lines entering the field, as well as not indulging any of the more routine superstitions that the masses indentify with like walking under ladders.
It all sounds a bit silly, but when there is no empirical explanation for hot streaks or losing streaks, the oh-for-four embarrassing days at the plate or the four-for-four great streaks at the plate, it does make the mind more susceptible to superstition.
Baseball is about averages working out over the long run. As we know the absolute best hitter is unlikely to do much better than topping .350 this summer and we will all say what a great year we had. But we have no idea how he will land on that figure. He might have a 10-game hitless streak in May and a 15-game hitting streak in August. We don’t know which days he will be on fire and which days he will take the collar.
In other words, as each day’s schedule plays out we will be just as baffled as Roenicke about how those results came to pass.