The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary contains more than a dozen definitions for the verb “press.”
To find the meaning closest to the usage that most troubles baseball players and managers, one must scroll to the sixth entry: “To lay stress or emphasis on; to insist on or request urgently.”
Even that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“It’s about trying to do too much as opposed to just staying in your game,” said Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, whose players have pressed plenty during a 20-game stretch in which they’ve won just three times.
“When you’ve gone as bad as we have for this long, everyone’s aware of it and everybody puts that much more pressure on themselves.”
In a sport where level-headedness and dogged commitment to routine are the keys to success, pressing can render a player nearly useless at the plate.
Time and again over the last three weeks, Arizona batters have swung for the fences rather than settling for base hits or taking walks. A team that once produced runs by getting on base and, as Melvin calls it, “passing the baton,” has too often tried to force runs across the plate.
They do it because they care, because they want to stop the losing, but by leaving their comfort zones they play into the opponents’ hands.
“You want to be the guy to turn it around,” Shawn Green said, “but it’s tough to be successful when there’s that urgency.”
Since the losing began on June 5, the Diamondbacks are batting just .226 (31-for-137) with runners in scoring position. The figure was .208 (26-for-125) before Sunday’s 9-7 win over the Angels. It hasn’t helped that the team has been forced to play from behind regularly during a stretch in which it’s been outscored 31-6 in first innings.
The Diamondbacks’ .277 season average with runners in scoring position is good for fourth in the National League. But .208 is the kind of number that will bury a team.
Only the Athletics (.233), Devil Rays (.238) and Reds (.239) are batting below .240 with runners in scoring position this season.
“No doubt (there’s pressure). You’re the guy that wants to snap everybody out,” Conor Jackson said. “That’s how every team is going to be, especially when you’re struggling. Everybody’s pressing. Everybody’s pressing to get hits and everybody’s pressing to get something started. You just have to let it go.”
The only way to break through a dry spell is to ride it out, though it’s not like players don’t try to speed things along.
Before Sunday’s game, Luis Gonzalez shaved the goatee he has worn since the end of former manager Buck Showalter’s reign, and Melvin joked that he has tried several different routes from his home in Cave Creek to Chase Field. The team has even moved its pregame stretch from in front of its dugout to left field.
There’s also plenty of film study and work in the batting cages during a slump.
“This game will beat you up mentally,” Gonzalez said. “You might not get a hit, then you’ll go work in the cage and it might be just something very minute but you’ll think it’s 20 different things. You tend to over-analyze.”
One of the keys to breaking out is accepting that good times will, eventually, come again. A veteran may be more patient than a young player, because he’s been through it before.
But that doesn’t mean waiting out a slump is easy.
“You feel like it’s going to be impossible to get going again, but it always seems to turn over,” Green added. “It’s not tangible. It’s just when the tide turns, whether it’s a big win, a big hit, whatever it is. Something gets the team going or something gets the player going.”
That something may have occurred in Sunday’s win over the Angels.
Orlando Hudson, who is 8-for-26 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in his last seven games, led the way and the Diamondbacks followed his hot bat to the win.
Hudson hit a three-run homer and Jackson, just 9-for-50 with six RBIs during the 18-game slide, went 4-for-4 as the club rallied from a two-run deficit, gave away a two-run lead, pulled ahead again and then held on for the victory.
It was the kind of game the club needed to break a fivegame losing streak and perhaps bust the three-week-old slump.
Even if Sunday was the answer to the slide, it doesn’t mean the Diamondbacks — either as a team or individually — are now immune to sliding into future funks.
“We’ve all been up there and failed,” Hudson said. “Then you get that tricky mind game with that devil talking in your head. That’s where you struggle.
“We all press and if I play this game for another 10 or 15 years I’m going to press some more.”