OMAHA, Neb. - Arizona State right fielder Ike Davis gave his tortured inner being a present Saturday. He felt good about himself. That’s not easy for Davis. He’s Eyeore in baseball spikes.
But after belting the game-winning home run in ASU’s 5-4 victory over UC Irvine in the College World Series, the Scottsdale Chaparral High graduate smiled and admitted to a moment of self-satisfaction.
But just for a moment.
“I’m finally getting back to where I should be,” Davis said.
A sane person might wonder where Davis was. He has 60 RBIs in 60 games this season. He’s batting .350. He hasn’t gone more than two consecutive games without a hit all year.
Yet he acts and talks like a man who wouldn’t have a good hack off a pitching machine.
“He doesn’t give himself enough credit,” ASU coach Pat Murphy said. “His self-esteem isn’t as good as it should be.”
That’s because Davis continually feels the need to live up to his resume:
• Son of former major league pitcher Ron Davis;
• Best player on Chaparral’s three state title teams;
• No. 1 prospect in Arizona in 2005.
That kind of background raises expectations, both from the public and, in Davis’ case, the player himself.
So when he hit .329 as a freshman with nine homers and a freshman school-record 65 RBIs, he was disappointed.
He was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, to boot.
And even though Murphy added to his burden by pitching him on Friday nights — he played first base when he didn’t pitch — he had him hitting clean-up.
“I’m pretty hard on myself,” Davis said. “I’m probably my harshest critic.”
Navel gazing can be a good thing, but taken too far, it can also cripple an athlete. Given Davis’ penchant for self-loathing, Murphy now understands it was a mistake to expect so much from him as a freshman.
This year, Davis has been used as strictly a middle reliever, and he’s pitched in just seven games. Murphy also has dropped him in the lineup. Davis batted sixth Saturday.
The moves have helped Davis feel more comfortable, but he continues to fret about every bad swing and uncomfortable at-bat.
“He’s hitting .350 and he still thinks he’s struggling,” Murphy said.
There’s a good reason for that, Davis said. Without being specific, he said he wasn’t working as hard as he should have been earlier in the season.
“I just don’t think I gave it my all,” he said. “When you know you could have done more to help the team, it’s frustrating.”
Of course, knowing Davis’ fondness for introspection, he could have spent 24 hours a day in the batting cage and not been satisfied.
Davis struggled in the super regional against Mississippi, going 1 for 8. In the week leading up to the CWS he and Murphy talked about his mental approach and his mechanics. Specifically, Murphy wanted Davis to stay back instead of diving toward the pitch.
“I was just getting myself out,” Davis said.
He didn’t do that Saturday. His only out in his four at-bats was a well-hit fly ball to left field. He drew a walk in the second inning, scoring on Matt Spencer’s three-run shot, hit an opposite-field double in the fourth then blasted the game-winning homer over the right-field fence.
There was a funny exchange regarding Davis’ homer after the game. UC Irvine starter Scott Gorgen said he was certain Davis knew a change-up was coming.
But when Davis was asked if that was the case, he laughed and said, “I was sitting fastball.”
That should tell you something about the state of Davis’ batting stroke. He guessed wrong and still hit the pitch about 400 feet.
The Devils should feel good about that.
He’s probably wondering this morning why he made that out.