Michael Cuddyer and the drama of the hitting streak

He came up in the first inning with runners on first and third, one out and a chance to give the Rockies an early lead against the Giants. He struck out.

“I was upset with myself in that first at-bat because the job was to get that guy in from third with less than two outs, and I didn’t,” Michael Cuddyer said afterward. “That was bigger than the streak to me, and I didn’t come through.”

The streak would be in jeopardy by the time Cuddyer came to bat in the eighth. He’d gone 0-for-3 against Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, never getting the ball out of the infield.

“It had everything to do with Bumgarner,” he said. “He was on his game today, there’s no question about that. He had a good cutter. Threw his curveball a lot, which you don’t see from him as often as he did today, and it was good.”

The crowd of 41,845 at Coors Field was well aware what was at stake when he dug into the box in the eighth against Giants reliever Sandy Rosario with two out, nobody on and the Rocks down 5-1. Barring a miraculous comeback, it would be his last chance to extend the longest hitting streak in the big leagues this season. I asked him if he was thinking about that as he stepped in.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I mean, it’s hard not to. Yeah, definitely. But at the same time, what helped me from being anxious is the fact that we needed base runners in that situation. So I was taking, which helped me see the first slider, and then I saw his fastball second pitch. So I felt good after those two pitches, and then squeaked one up the middle.”

Cuddyer slapped Rosario’s second slider back toward the mound. Rosario reached out with his bare right hand to knock it down.

“He hit it, actually,” Cuddyer said. “I think he got his hand on it.”

I wondered if he had a fleeting thought that Rosario was going to come up with it.

“No, it happened too quick,” he said. “And if he would have caught it, he would have caught it. That’s the way the game goes.”

Instead, the ball skipped off Rosario’s hand and continued its journey back up the middle, hit too sharply for either middle infielder to cut it off. As Cuddyer rounded first base, the crowd rose to give him an ovation. An umpire collected the ball and flipped it to the home dugout. Moments later, Cuddyer scored the Rocks’ second and final run on a Wilin Rosario double to right.

Cuddyer now has at least one hit in 27 consecutive games, the longest hitting streak in the majors this season and the longest in Rockies history, eclipsing the previous record of 23 set by Dante Bichette, now the club’s hitting coach, in 1995.

If you add walks and being hit by a pitch, Cuddyer has now reached base safely in 46 consecutive games. That, too, is a Rockies franchise record — and the longest such streak in the big leagues since 2007.

A career .275 hitter, the 34-year-old Cuddyer is now batting .344, one point behind the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina for the National League lead. His OPS of .983 is 178 points higher than his career mark.

“Hitting is tough, you know?” said Carlos Gonzalez, who hit his league-leading 22nd home run batting in front of Cuddyer in the sixth.

“He’s been doing something really amazing this year. Everybody was really excited for him to continue that streak and let’s see how far he goes. That’s one of the difficult things to do. I mean, that record seems almost impossible. I think the farthest I got was like 16, and it feels like he’s been hitting for a month. It’s good for him and hopefully he can continue to do that. He’s giving us a lot of opportunities to win games.”

About the only concession Cuddyer made to superstitition was to quit shaving early in the streak. He’s kept the beard.

“Now I kind of like the way I look,” he said with a grin. “My wife might disagree, but it is what it is.”

Other than that, he has not indulged any of the less hygenic ballplayer superstitions — wearing the same socks day after day, for instance.

“No, I mean, I wear the same uniform every day,” he said, laughing. “I’m not really a superstitious type of guy. You’re going to go out and play. I wish we all had that much power where we could determine the outcome just by the clothes that we wear.”

If the streak is wearing him down mentally, there’s no sign of it. He is as friendly and ready to laugh as usual.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I mean I’ve never been through anything like this before, I think it’s pretty obvious. So you just enjoy the ride and have as good at-bats as you can.

“There’s no question that it’s pretty awesome, pretty cool to go out and do. But when you get in the box, you can’t focus on it. Obviously, it’s in your head and in your mind, but there’s a job at hand.”

Cuddyer’s streak is not the only feel-good story in the Rocks’ clubhouse. There’s also the fact that they’re still in contention for the National League West title at the season’s midway point after losing 98 games a year ago.

“We had our backs a little bit against the wall going into this series and we were able to win this series, two out of three against a good Giants team,” Cuddyer said.

“We’ve got the Dodgers coming in. That’s the thing about the way that the schedules are nowadays. You’ve got chances to win the division. You have to win inside the division. And this streak that we have going on right now, in the middle of (16) in a row of playing division opponents, is a testament to that. And hopefully we can go out there and take care of business.”

Which has been Cuddyer’s motto all year.

“I think the thing that I’ve done well this whole season is focus on that at-bat,” he said. “Focus on the pitches that are going on in the particular at-bat that I’m in. Not two at-bats from now or three at-bats from now. And I think that’s helped a lot.”

Somebody mentioned that he is now almost halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s major league record 56-game hitting streak, a record some people believe will never be broken.

“I’m right there with those ‘some people,'” Cuddyer said. “It’s incredible. It’s unfathomable. It’s one of those records right up there with Cal Ripken and those types of records.”

In every long hitting streak, there are games like Sunday’s, when it comes down to a final at-bat, and maybe a matter of inches, from ending. Cuddyer made it through the close call. Now he gets a day off before seeing how much longer he can carry it.

About Dave Krieger

Dave Krieger is a recidivist newspaperman. View all posts by Dave Krieger

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