Perhaps no sport is more historically entwined with superstition than baseball. Rites of the game have spawned everything from curses of the Bambino and a Billy Goat to not discussing a no-hitter in progress to Lorenzo Cain fidgeting with his batting gloves between every … single … pitch.
This phenomenon is most likely what Yogi Berra was referring to when he said “90 percent of the game is half-mental.”
Good times mean clinging to the most mundane of routines, whether it’s the route to the stadium or choice of pregame meal or any number of quirky habits that only matter if you decide they do.
As for the bad times, well, players might grasp at about anything to change the mojo.
So it was that on Monday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, with his team mired in a nine-game losing streak, Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss extolled the virtues of the mere flipping of the calendar to May.
“One of those times when you just turn the page: It’s a new month, a new game today, a new series,” he said, later adding, “There’s something real to it.”
Shazam, the Royals are 1-0 in May after clobbering Chicago 6-1 behind Eric Hosmer’s long-awaited second home run (a two-run blast to left center in the seventh), a two-run homer by Jorge Bonifacio and a two-run single by Sal Perez that caromed off third base for a recently rare friendly bounce.
“You’re thinking, ‘About time we caught a break,’ ” manager Ned Yost said.
To a point, anyway, Moss’ theory was endorsed by Yost even before the game.
Who knows what might take?
“The mind’s a mysterious thing, you know?,” Yost said. “ … I look at it as today’s a new day. Could be.”
Then again …
“We can come up with all the hocus-pocus things that we want to,” Yost said. “ … It just boils down to going out and playing their game. We know who they are. We know their track records and what they’ve accomplished. And they can do it again.”
Time-honored logic when it comes to this game of ebb and flow.
The complication, though, is that the logic presupposes the Royals still have all the right stuff and that there is some beast within that inevitably will awaken.
Reasons to believe have been in short supply for just about anyone watching the team.
But the flip side remains that a flop this season would be an inexplicably precipitous drop-off for a group that still has a nucleus that won the World Series in 2015.
So Yost is keeping the faith, surely at least in part simply hoping it will resonate.
“I don’t need reinforcing,” he said. “ … I know who they are. I know their personalities. I know what makes them tick.”
Tapping that loose is another matter — especially amid the big-picture anxieties that this season has carried with it from the start.
With Hosmer, Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar looming as potential free agents after the season, the compressed time line for some weighty decisions to be made about buying or selling figures to be the July 31 trade deadline.
Couple that with a deflating April that left the Royals tumbling into a chasm, and it warps perception of the only way out of this mess.
“We can’t say we lost nine in a row, we’ve got to come back and win nine”, Hosmer said.
At 8-16, they can only say this:
“It’s going to take months to get back to where you should be; you just have to release and let go of it and go play baseball,” said Moss, who was speaking of his own rough start before elaborating more broadly. “That works the same way as a team. You dig yourself in such a hole that you can’t look at and say, ‘If we win this series, we’re right back to .500 and we’re right back in it.’
“That’s no longer the case. You’ve just got to go out and play good baseball, consistently play good baseball. Let things fall where they may and see where you end up at the end of the year.”
Or at least see where they are by the end of the next 16 games, 12 of which are at home.
And how that leads to what things look like at the end of June — still a full month before the trade deadline and a time when trade value would be maximized.
Even if some already see this as curtains for the season and time for a changing of the guard, the truth will emerge one painstaking game at a time.
Starting with a clean slate in May.
“You can kind of catch your breath,” Yost said, “and see if we can’t start a streak the other way.”