Hitting Streaks Sneak Up On You
MORGANTOWN — They sneak up on you, really, these things that are hitting streaks.
This is something I know about, which is a rare statement for me to make, but, see, in that other newspaper life of mine I covered the Cincinnati Reds and chronicled every hit, every moment, every thought that Pete Rose had when he hit in 44 consecutive games in 1978.
Only Joe DiMaggio’s streak of 56 is longer in the history of the game.
This is important because it can lend some insight into the streak in which West Virginia’s junior second baseman Kyle Gray finds himself enveloped in these days, hitting safely in 23 consecutive games as he heads for the Lone Star State and a series against TCU.
Like Rose, Gray could not have felt his streak coming. At the time, Rose broke out of a slump with a single off the Chicago Cubs’ Dave Roberts on June 14.
There were rumblings that Rose was beginning to slip, to lose it. Forty days earlier he had collected his 3,000th career hit, he had put a lot of wear and tear on a 37-year-old body and now the summer was setting in and his batting average had slipped to .267.
That was a very unRoseian average, for he did not believe the season began until he was hitting .300 and he was showing no signs of coming out of it, having gone seven for his previous 50 at bats.
Gray’s streak started in similar fashion; he had gone 0-for-his-last-9 at bats, 1 of 12 and he was batting eighth in the Mountaineer lineup when he collected a ninth-inning single in an 8-5 loss to Texas Tech.
The thing about hitters who go on long hitting streaks is that they know they can hit. They overflow with confidence and that allows the streak to seem like the most natural of occurrences.
Starting with that base hit, Gray has banged out 40 hits in 87 at-bats, a crazy .460 average, with six doubles, a triple and eight home runs while driving in 26 runs and scoring 25 in 23 games. His slugging percentage during that time is .828 and his on-base percentage, .551.
Certainly, Joe DiMaggio never questioned his ability and even had something to draw on during his 56-game streak, for in the minor leagues he had hit in 61 consecutive games in 1933.
Rose was the same. When his streak was interrupted at 25 games for the All-Star break, someone questioned whether it might bother him.
Not Rose. His sights were set far higher.
“It might go on forever,” he said
And then three games after the All-Star break, when he broke the Cincinnati Reds’ team record of 27 straight games, he took matter-of-factly.
“It has no real meaning because the major league is so far off,” Rose said, referring to DiMaggio’s 56-game streak. “The thing about DiMaggio’s streak is that after it was stopped, he hit in the next 16 games.”
As impossible as that is to believe, that’s exactly what happened with DiMaggio.
They have always said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, often put as trying hit a round ball with a round bat and hit it squarely, to say nothing of it traveling 90 miles an hour and with it being the only game where it is one on nine opponents.
Rose’s method was to attack each at-bat. He went up to the plate with more of a machete in his hands than a baseball bat and his every movement was meant to intimidate the pitcher.
Gray is different in his approach, more mellow is the best way to put it.
“I’m just playing the game, trying to let things play out and help the team as much as I can,” he said after getting three more hits against Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.
Where Gray is similar to Rose is that he doesn’t let superstition interfere with his game. Rose believed he was in control of his fate by his approach, as does Gray.
“I try to keep the same routine (each at-bat), just because it feels right. I try not to do anything new. I found out a long time ago that superstition isn’t really a thing. It’s more mental than anything,” he said.
“I have a great feeling when I go into any game or any at-bat or making any play because I have nine guys who have my back.”
But the fact is with any hitter, when you go into a streak, the game slows down, the spin on the ball seems easier to read, you seem to always be hitting ahead in the count due to your patience.
Gray believes all that has come together for him, not necessary because of anything he’s done. It’s just a natural progression.
“I think it’s more getting finally to this stage of the season,” Gray explained. “Before, things were still a little rusty and you are trying to get into the swing of things. Now we’re seeing a lot of different pitches from a lot of different pitches and understand how off-speed moves and fastballs and everything like that.
“You have a better grasp of things.”
As for the difference in him now and, say, a year ago, he believe he knows what has transpired.
“Other than just experience and growing as a person and player, probably the help from coach Randy Mazey and (hitting) coach Steve Sabins. I have a better approach at the plate,” he said.
“Last year, I took a lot of pitches,” noted Gray. “This year, I’m looking to direct balls in a certain direction on a certain count. That allows me to be a lot more calm at the plate. I’m seeing pitches better and I’m laying off certain pitches that I would have swung at last year that were off the plate.”