ST. PETERSBURG — “When you’re in a slump, it’s almost as if you look out at the field and it’s one big glove.” — former big-leaguer Vance Law
“There are a lot of words to describe that feeling,” Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce said. “I would say lost is a good word. Uncomfortable. Frustrating is one of the biggest things. It’s not a good feeling. It’s tough to keep going and remain confident because you just fail so much. You fail over and over again.”
Joyce had five hits last September.
Designated hitter David DeJesus endured an 0-for-24 stretch earlier this season.
Third baseman Evan Longoria just went through a spell where he had three hits in 10 games.
There are many truths surrounding this game, and one is that if you make your living hitting a baseball, you will, from time to time, find yourself in a slump, where the baseball looks like the size of an aspirin and, as Law once said, the field is one big glove.
“Slumps are terrible,” Rays bench coach Dave Martinez said. “The funny thing is when the team is winning and you’re in a slump you try to work your way out of it, but when the team is struggling and you’re in a slump, you carry all the weight on your shoulders.”
Longoria’s slump is why manager Joe Maddon moved Longoria to No. 2 in the batting order. The order normally is set up to feed Longoria. But as Longoria’s streak of futility reached three hits in 29 at-bats, Maddon wanted Longoria to just focus on reaching base.
“Instead of driving the bus, just be a passenger,” Maddon said.
Longoria singled in the 11th inning Thursday to start the winning rally. He followed that with hits in his first three at-bats Friday.
Is Longoria’s slump over?
“We’re going to find out,” Maddon said.
“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hitting.” — Hall of Famer Yogi Berra
“It’s tough,” DeJesus said. “It feels like you’re 0-2 every at-bat. It’s a battle. You’re always in battle mode. You hit a ball and it’s at someone. You come up again, next thing you know you’re 0-2 and the pitcher is putting it on both corners. It seems like nothing goes your way. At the end of the day you’re going to get out of it. It’s just taking the time to understand that this is for a little bit of time, that baseball is a ride. You just don’t want that downhill ride going too long.”
Name another sport where a player can experience such a run of failure. Will Tom Brady play 10 games and complete only three passes? Can LeBron James go an entire month and make only five baskets?
“It’s the craziest game,” DeJesus said, “but we chose to play this game, and knowing that a really great player hits .300 – just three out of 10. So it’s our fault.”
When Martinez was slumping he would bring home tapes of games where he hit the ball well and watch them in solitude, searching for clues as to why things were going so bad.
“All I wanted to do was see all the good things,” Martinez said. “Sometimes it helped. Sometimes it didn’t and I went four, five, six more days where I didn’t get a hit.”
Joyce remembered slumping so bad at Double-A he couldn’t sleep.
“I’d lie awake at night and pray, just praying that it would stop, the struggle would stop,” Joyce said. “Sometimes that’s all you can do, take a deep breath and say, ‘You know what, just keep going.’ That’s all you can do. When you’re going through hell keep going.”
And then one day the ball looks a little bigger and your swing feels right and the line drive finds grass and the post-game spread tastes so much better.
The slump has been busted.
“I guess it’s one of life’s great mysteries,” Joyce said. “You hit all your life and something doesn’t feel right or you’re not seeing the ball the same. There’s a lot of factors involved in hitting, and sometimes all it takes is just one thing to go really wrong and you struggle, and sometimes all it takes is one pitch to get you going.”