DiMaggio’s record, on the other hand, requires only that a player get a hit every game for 56 games.
“It seems like it’s not that hard to get a hit every day,” said Don Mattingly, the Yankees’ hitting coach and a fair hitter in his time. “It didn’t seem like it would be. Just one, you know? Why can’t you get one? Why not? So, I don’t know why. It’s tough, obviously.
“You have to hit a ball clean, and some days you’re going to hit two lineouts. So you don’t hit every ball hard; you hit three out of four balls, but you hit two of them right at somebody. So all of a sudden you leave yourself with one at-bat to get a hit. So I think just luck sometimes. You have eight guys out there trying to catch a ball.”
How hard is it to sustain a hitting streak? Since 1941, Rose is the only player to hit in 40 or more consecutive games. Paul Molitor reached 39 in 1987, and Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies is next on the post-Rose list, hitting safely in his last 36 games last season.
Rollins also had hits in his first two games this season, making his streak 38 games for some people, but it makes no sense to extend a hitting streak over two seasons. Circumstances are different when six months separate at-bats. The pressure of a hitting streak is playing each day as the streak builds.
“You just want to get in a consistent rhythm and keep doing the right thing,” Carlos Delgado of the Mets said. “But if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
“There are so many obstacles. One day you’re facing a guy throwing 95, then 85. Then they bring in a lefty, and then a sidearmer. There are so many outside elements, and that’s what makes doing it day after day so impressive.”
Perhaps it is because of the difficulty of building a streak that teams and the news media are quick to talk about a player having a five, six or eight-game hitting streak. When Derek Jeter got a first-inning single yesterday in the Yankees’ game against Toronto, the announcers quickly talked about his 12-game hitting streak.
“There’s a fine line,” Delgado said. “At 10 or 12 games, it’s an achievement, but no one’s starting to notice. At 15 or 16, that’s when people start caring, and it gets more difficult. People start asking about what you’re doing, if you’re doing anything different, about your approach. If no one’s talking about it, you can just focus on hitting the ball.”
By the time a player gets to Utley’s level, he faces increased scrutiny and curiosity. That’s when he starts hearing DiMaggio’s name.
“I had a 25-game one in L.A., and it seemed like forever,” Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca said. “DiMaggio’s 56 is unreal. To do it day in and day out is remarkable.”
Mattingly said: “I couldn’t do it. I never got to 30.”
Tony Gwynn, who won the National League batting title eight times, never hit in more than 25 consecutive games. Discussing hitting streaks a few years ago, he said: “They barely talk about it until you get to 30. Then when you get to 30, they talk about it every day. It’s going to take a guy who’s mentally tough, who’ll talk about it before the game and after the game.”
Utley doesn’t talk about it, figuring he will jinx himself and the streak will end. That’s one way of dealing with mounting pressure.