Saturday, September 26, 2015

Looking failure in the eye

Glen Perkins after yielding a two-run, go-ahead
home run in the eighth inning Saturday.

Baseball has been called a game of failure. More accurately, it is a zero-sum game: Every win is balanced by a loss. And in baseball, at least at the highest levels, even the best teams lose a lot. The best winning percentage in the American League so far belongs to Kansas City, and the Royals lose 4.2 games of every 10 they play.

So even those who succeed in the majors fail frequently. They strike out, sometimes, with men on base; they give up, sometimes, home runs in tied games.  The image of Kirby Puckett pumping his fist as he runs the bases in Game Six of the 1991 World Series is balanced by the image of Charlie Leibrandt walking off the field covering his mouth with the crook of his elbow.

I thought Friday night of Leibrandt as I watched Glen Perkins squatting next to the mound after giving up a two-run homer to Rajai Davis. I don't know how much, if any, discomfort Perkins has in his troublesome neck and back these days. He obviously believes he's sound enough to pitch. He also realizes that he's been part of the problem the past few months:

I can name pitchers  whose careers went downhill fast after high-profile failures. Connecting those dots may be overly simplistic. Maybe Byung-Hyun Kim and Calvin Schiraldi and Salomon Torres weren't ready emotionally for those moments and were stunted by their failure in the spotlight; maybe they were never destined for stardom.

Perkins, at least, has a base of success to fall back on. But it has to be a searing feeling to squat by the mound watching a game and a wild card berth slipping away.

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