David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
After nudging himself up from .399 to .405 in Thursday's monsoon, David Wright smiled uncomfortably when asked about, you know, his batting average. As with any historical pursuit, it must be done over an extended period, and Wright gave a typical response after the game.
But doesn't he at least sneak an occasional peek at the scoreboard? Just to appreciate hitting .400, for however long it might last? And who's to say it has to end?
"It's May," Wright said. "It's really, really early. So you can't get caught up in looking."
Then again, it's early only until it's not. The last two players to finish a season within 10 points of .400 -- Tony Gwynn (.394) in 1994 and George Brett (.390) in 1980 -- appeared to fall off the pace in May before heating up in midsummer.
Gwynn was batting .408 on May 15, then .385 on May 27, and never made it higher than the point at which he finished the year. Brett took a different path. On May 27, he was hitting .281, and it took him the next 50 games (interrupted by a month on the DL) to finally get to .401 on Aug. 17. During that ridiculous stretch, Brett batted a superhuman .478 (97-for-203) with a 1.291 OPS.
Wright had a 1.128 OPS through his first 41 games and has appeared unstoppable. "He's in a zone like no other," Terry Collins said this past week. "He's got a routine he sticks with, he believes in it, and he gets himself ready to play."
Wright, aside from his fractured pinkie finger, has stayed relatively healthy. He missed only three games with that injury and has shown no ill effects since his return on April 14, when he homered on the first pitch thrown to him. But could Wright's durability also be his downfall?
Knowing Wright, he's far more likely than not to get his usual 600-plus plate appearances and 150-plus games. A fractured back cost him seven weeks in 2011, but he still had 447 plate appearances and 102 games. In 2009, a concussion put him on the shelf for two weeks, but he logged 144 games anyway.
As Brett showed, however, continuity is not the key to making a run at .400. After a month off, he went on a 30-game hitting streak, then missed two more weeks in September before resuming his chase. With hitters so wedded to their routines in this day and age, what Brett did sounds impossible to duplicate.
Wright, asked about his success, stressed the importance of repeating the same formula over and over. "You try to have some consistency to your setup and your approach," he said. "I try to come in, do the same work in the cage."
He credited teammates in his BP group, such as Daniel Murphy, who help point out discrepancies in his stance or swing. He knows that to even get within shouting distance of Ted Williams, who hit .406 in 1941, preparation is only part of it.
"There's so many variables," he said. "You could up go there and have great at-bats and not have anything to show for it. You go out there and have terrible at-bats, and a couple bloopers fall in. So it's one of those things where I've been lucky quite a bit. Some balls have found some holes."
If anyone knows the trials and tribulations of a young star, it's Jeff Francoeur, who went from being called The Natural in Atlanta to winding up with the Mets five years later. Now in Kansas City, Francoeur is surrounded by the 2012 versions of his former self, from Alex Gordon to Mike Moustakas to Eric Hosmer.
So far, all of that potential has been slow to materialize, but Francoeur's Royals, with a $64-million payroll, are somewhat encouraged by the struggles of the big-market clubs, even beating up on a few of them recently. They are 9-6 against the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels and Rangers. But they're 18-27 overall, and contention still looks to be another year away.
"If you look at a team like Tampa Bay, how they've built it, and I think that's what we're kind of hoping to happen here," said Francoeur, who homered twice in three games at Yankee Stadium last week. "Getting a lot of position players molded together with young arms.
"Yeah, you do play teams with a lot of experience and a lot of money. But I think more and more, you look at the standings in the NL East, even the AL East, with all these teams right around each other, the playing field is starting to even out."
Fans at Busch Stadium, where Thursday's game earned an R-rating after a 22-year-old man stripped and streaked across the outfield. Have to say it was more enjoyable to watch when the Rally Squirrel did it.
Employees laid off by Curt Schilling, whose video-game company, 38 Studios, was late on a $1.1-million payment. That's close to what Schilling made in two weeks during his five-year stint with Red Sox.
Miles per hour, the velocity registered by Giancarlo Stanton's grand slam that broke a scoreboard Monday. It was the highest since 2006, the start of such tracking, and came off Jamie Moyer, whose fastball wouldn't get pulled over on the turnpike.
Home runs by Chipper Jones against the Reds, who honored him Thursday with a video montage. They also had his name and No. 10 on every base. In four months, Mets can borrow hubcaps from outside Citi Field and spell "Larry" on leftfield wall.
Strikeouts by Dan Haren, who became first Angel and only 16th pitcher since 1918 to post as many Ks without a walk in a shutout. Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez are only ones to do it multiple times.
Home runs hit by White Sox and Twins, combined, after Snoop Dogg threw out the first pitch Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field. Most high-profile cameo for Dogg since his Speaker City bash in "Old School."