It’s worth remembering that in baseball, momentum is most often an illusion

07/10/2014 11:19 PM

07/11/2014 10:32 AM

You don’t see it every day, the young star catcher turning what had been a miserable day into the most exciting win of the season with a ninth inning home run, so of course we all overreacted a bit. Baseball is a game of failure. Getting carried away at the high points is only natural.

You started to see it right away the other night, after Sal Perez’s homer stole a late win in Tampa. The broadcasters talked about it being a season-changer as the Royals host the Tigers for a four-game series this weekend. You might’ve heard it around town, too, that maybe this is just the kind of jolt the Royals needed.

Ahem.

The Royals did more than lose a game to the Tigers on Thursday, and they did more than lose a relatively important game to the division leaders 16-4 in front of a home crowd wanting to believe.

What they did, really, was present what could be the definitive case that the idea of momentum in baseball is a bunch of hooey poppycock.

“(Momentum) carries over until the first pitch,” said Royals manager Ned Yost before the game and then, as if to emphasize the point, his team gave up three runs before its first at bat.

Yost has a lifetime of baseball to lean on, but here are a few numbers for you. American League teams are seven games under .500 this year the game after a walk-off win, and they are nine games over .500 the game after a walk-off loss.

If you did nothing but bet on teams to go the other way after a walk-off, you’d have yourself a nice little nest egg or at least some gas money, depending on your risk tolerance. Perez’s homer in Tampa wasn’t a walk-off, but for the Royals the emotions were just the same.

So getting blown out by the Tigers a day after beating the Rays in the ninth was not a Royals thing to do; it was a baseball thing that happened. Following the season’s best win with its most embarrassing loss is less the mark of a missed opportunity and more a dramatic way to make a point.

Momentum is bupkis, at best.

This is so easy to miss. The Royals can fool you, too. They have been exceptionally streaky these last few seasons, particularly that 10-game win streak last month, and when this franchise goes bad it tends to get stuck going bad.

A fan base so starved to see the longest playoff drought in North American sports end can naturally hang on to the good and bad moments a little harder.

There may be something to the idea of hitting being contagious, or the feeling that when a baseball team is going particularly well or poorly it tends to stay that way. But at least in terms of one thrilling win or stomach-churning loss, forget about it.

Routine is so important for baseball players, and part of that is an attempt to be ready each day. There are conversations in every clubhouse after every game, guys sometimes going over who did what, and the code is when someone asks, who’s pitching tomorrow? the conversation about the last game is done.

Baseball seasons are so long, and the men who reach the majors have often played more than a thousand games to get there. Today will not be the first time they win or lose, and it won’t be the last.

The trick, of course, now becomes the Royals’ ability to wash off a horrendous loss. Danny Duffy had nothing to do with giving up 16 runs to the Tigers on Thursday, but he’ll be the most crucial player in the game against the American League’s best offense.

The importance of midseason series tends to be overblown by fans and media, but the Royals are very much at a point where they should be gaining ground instead of losing it.

With that in mind, you may be interested that American League teams have won more than they’ve lost the game after being blown out.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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