By ignoring the numbers in a game built on them, Michael Cuddyer put up one of the most impressive numbers of the season.
The former Twins star went 0-for-4 in the Rockies’ 8-0 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday, and no, that’s not the impressive part. Clayton Kershaw does that to a lot of hitters.
But that game marked the first time since May 27 — more than a month earlier — that Cuddyer didn’t have a hit. His 27-game hitting streak is the longest in baseball this season, and the longest in Colorado Rockies history.
“It was a lot of fun. I’ve never been through something like that, and I enjoyed being able to help the team every single day,” said Cuddyer, who left the Twins as a free agent after the 2011 season. “And there’s no shame in losing it to the best pitcher in baseball.”
So when did Cuddyer, whose longest previous career-best streak was 15 games, realize he hadn’t gone hitless in a while? “Oh, I usually realize I have a hitting streak about three games,” he said with a laugh. “I knew what was going on. But I was proud of the way I kept my focus the whole way.”
That focus, he said, was the secret. It took until his 13th big-league season, he said, to understand that worrying about statistics is the best way to sabotage them. “The one thing I’ve done better this year than at any time in my career is to focus on each pitch, each at-bat. Think about nothing else,” said the 34-year-old outfielder, who was named an All-Star for the second time Saturday. “That sounds simple, but I definitely used to be guilty of thinking, ‘I’ve got to get two hits today.’ Or, ‘I need three hits in my next 10 at-bats.’ Or, ‘Didn’t get a hit yesterday, need to make it up today.’ ”
Cuddyer said he used to break his routine into 10 at-bat stretches, “and I didn’t realize how it affected my focus,” he said. “What that does is, if you don’t get a hit in your next seven at-bats, now you’ve put a whole lot more pressure on yourself. It’s amazing how that prevents you from sticking to the mentality of, ‘What is this pitcher doing? What pitch is coming?’ ”
By uncluttering his mind, so to speak, Cuddyer has embarked on perhaps the best season of his career. Entering Saturday, he had gone hitless in a game he started only seven times all year, fewest in the National League among players with 60 games, and his .342 batting average was third-highest in the majors, nearly 60 points better than his best season. With 15 home runs and 52 RBI, he is on pace to challenge career highs in those categories, too.
Staying healthy has been the key, after his 2012 season was ruined by a recurring oblique strain that limited him to 101 games.
And best of all, the Twins’ 1997 first-round pick said, is that the Rockies have recovered from last year’s 98-loss season — two games worse than the Twins — to become a plausible postseason contender, going into Saturday night’s game at Arizona within 3½ games of the first-place Diamondbacks. The Rockies were in first place throughout April and as late as May 25, and their 24-19 record within the NL West gives him hope.
“The way to win, Gardy always preached, was to beat the teams in your own division. That’s what we’re doing,” Cuddyer said, citing Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “We’re definitely within striking distance.”
Not that he pays attention to numbers anymore.