Lugo breaking through? Oh-fer goodness' sake!
If you play baseball, or care about anyone who plays baseball, it is the bane of all existence. It can impact the happiness of entire households for days or even weeks at a time. And there is almost nothing you can do to change things. Other than wait. And hope for a little good luck.
It is the hitting slump, the oh-fer, the streak that puts you south of the Mendoza line and on a fast track to a legitimate cry for professional help.
"I had mine in 2001 and my wife still talks about it," Red Sox infielder Alex Cora said before last night's 4-1 win over the Devil Rays.
"There's no eating, no sleeping. You get home and you watch the game again on TV even though you know what's going to happen. It's not a good feeling."
Say hello to Julio Lugo. If hitting slumps were planets, Lugo would have been living on Jupiter. He was 0 for 33 when he stepped to the plate to face Scott Kazmir with runners on second and third and two outs in the second inning last night. Lugo was hitting a not-so-robust .189.
And then it happened . . . Lugo lined a two-run single to center on an 0-1 pitch. Time to exhale.
"It's a big relief," Lugo said after his 2-for-3 night. "Especially when you have a chance to drive some guys in. People say, 'Relax, relax, relax.' Well, it's not easy to relax when things are not going well. When I got that hit, everybody was happy. They knew what I was going through."
The Sox did not stop the game and ask for the baseball, but who could have blamed Lugo if he wanted the souvenir? It's OK to hit your weight if you are Wily Mo Peña, Vince Wilfork, or Glen "Big Baby" Davis. It's not OK if you are Lugo (175 pounds). You don't want to be hitting Paris Hilton's weight.
"It's not easy to live with," Lugo (a .277 career hitter entering the season) said. "You can't even sleep well. You don't know what works and what doesn't work. You get advice from everybody. You think about mechanical stuff."
Trying hard doesn't necessarily help. Baseball, like golf, is a mental game. A basketball, football, or hockey player usually can do something physical to get out of a slump. Drive to the basket. Pancake an opponent. You hustle and you make something happen. This doesn't work in the batter's box or on the putting green. Try harder and you probably will do worse. That's the hell of a hitting slump.
"I never had one like his, but I had 'em," said Jerry Remy, who was a much better ballplayer than he leads you to believe on Sox broadcasts. "It's awful. You start to press and you wonder how bad things can go. Everyone gives you advice and your head starts spinning around."
"If I got to something like 0 for 7, I'd just try a drag bunt," said Johnny Pesky. "Or if Dom [DiMaggio] got on first, we'd go for a hit-and-run and I'd have two holes to shoot for."
Red Sox historian Dick Bresciani went to his files yesterday and uncovered dark moments of Sox hitters. The franchise low is believed to be Luis Aparicio's 0 for 44 in 1971. It was so bad that Little Luis got a call from President Nixon, a man who knew something about slumps. Aparicio went 11 games without a hit, finally broke the streak, then went 0 for 10, giving him one hit in 55 at-bats -- a full high school season around here. Of course, it didn't stop Aparicio on his way to the Hall of Fame.
More recently, Tim Naehring went 0 for 39 in 1991. George Scott had a 1 for 35 in 1968. Ken Harrelson had a 1 for 36 the same season -- a campaign that came to be known as The Year of the Pitcher (Carl Yastrzemski led the American League with a .301 average). Mike Andrews went 0 for 29 in 1970.
"Of course you take it home," said Andrews. "It's very difficult to leave the game at the field. It eats at you. It never affected my appetite, but I might have had a few more beers."
Andrews said he'd been thinking about Lugo and had hoped to have a conversation with the Sox infielder.
"The harder you try, the worse it is," said Andrews. "It blows your mind. In my case, I went home for the All-Star break and said to myself, 'I've been a good hitter my whole career. Just see the ball and hit the ball. And what will be will be.' I felt Lugo's pain and I wanted to see him come out of it. I think all Red Sox fans felt that way. They were rooting for the guy."
Lugo got a nice reception in the seventh inning Monday night. He'd walked twice and put down a perfect sacrifice bunt, and the savvy Fenway legions chanted his name before he grounded out.
"That made me feel real good," said Lugo. "I felt a lot of love. They know I am trying my hardest. I'm not the type to struggle because of lack of effort. I give 100 percent day in and day out, and it means a lot to me that the fans see that . . . Playing here is better than I thought it would be. You can't ask any more. A first-class city. First-class fans."
After snapping his oh-fer, he struck out swinging in the fifth, then singled in the seventh before getting picked off first by the catcher. Despite the two-hit night, he is still .006 south (.194) of Mendoza.
But at least Bob Buhl's record is safe. A pitcher with the Braves and Cubs, Buhl went 0 for 70 in 1962. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the longest oh-fer in a season in major league annals. So Julio Lugo didn't even make it halfway to hitless history.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.