TORONTO — The ball went flying high into center field and Chet Lemon waved, he got it, the final out, and that was that. Alan Trammell stood at shortstop, watched the catch, then trotted in with the rest of his teammates.
The game was won.
The streak was over.
“Was any part of you hoping Chet wouldn’t catch that ball?” Trammell would be asked later, after his 21-game hitting streak ended in the Tigers’ 3-2 victory over Toronto — ended with a man on third representing the tying Toronto run. “Any part of you hoping he’d drop it and we’d go to extra innings and you’d get one more at-bat?”
“Ah, no,” he would say. “Sure, I thought about it. I’m disappointed. But mostly I just wanted to win the game.”
Mostly. Not completely. One more at-bat would have been nice. One more swing.
For 3 1/2 weeks Trammell had finished each game with at least one hit. Some days 1-for-4, some 3-for-3. Always one hit. Today, no hits. Four tries. No hits.
The streak was over. Trammell walked toward the dugout, then he stopped and looked out at center field. Jack Morris, the pitcher, found his friend and put his arm around his shoulder.
“First he said, ‘Good game’ because we won,” Trammell would say, noting the order of importance. “Then he said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ ” Happiness a matter of degree He should not worry about it. With a performance at the plate Wednesday that he called “my worst since this thing started,” his batting average fell all the way to .355. Everyone should have such problems. Trammell, 29, is still enjoying his best season ever with the bat, and he is able to throw pain-free at shortstop, something he could not claim the past two years. He should be happy.
And yet, well, you know. There are different kinds of happiness. The kind you get when your company’s stock goes up, and the kind you get when your boss makes you vice-president. Sure Trammell wanted to win this game against Toronto. It was a big victory for Detroit, it represented two-out-of-three against the AL East leaders.
But he also would have liked to get a hit, to extend the streak that was the longest in baseball so far this year, the longest he’s ever had. What had the streak been like? His average reached as high as .362. He was the top hitter in the American League. The rankings read Alan Trammell, Detroit, then Wade Boggs, Boston.
The streak had become a sort of friend, a traveling companion. It met him at the park every day, stayed until his first hit, then vanished like a coy lover whispering “see you tomorrow.”
“This is fun,” Trammell had said before Wednesday’s game. “It really is fun. Lately other players have been kidding me, saying, ‘What have you been doing, lifting weights or something?’
“I know 21 games is not that big a deal. Lots of guys have done it. I mean,
it’s not like Joe DiMaggio or anything. But it’s been fun. I’ll be disappointed when it’s over.”
And a few hours later, it was. He grounded out. He grounded into a force out. He grounded out again. And he fouled out. “I knew that was gonna be it,” he would say. And yet, had the game reached a 10th inning, he was due to bat.
“I knew that, too. I had the exact count of how many more batters we needed. But when Chet caught the ball . . . “
But, but. No buts. No fuss, good or bad So he sat in the trainer’s room for a long time after the game, his feet propped up on the table. For a while, Kirk Gibson lay on the table next to him. Then Gibson left and Morris lay down. Trammell stayed put, quiet, sipping a Coke, elbows on his knees. About 40 minutes after Lemon’s catch, he finally came out and waddled over to the television set.
“What are we watching here?” he asked, nonchalantly, as if the streak and the reporters circling in did not exist.
Trammell is the type of guy who prefers no fuss; not over good, not over bad. And yet the streak had been, well, important. He had been checking the batting averages daily to see where he stood. He was happy when he reached 21 games, because that broke his personal best of 20. He knew it wasn’t DiMaggio. It wasn’t even Pete Rose. But it was on the way, wasn’t it?
“If it had to end, I’m glad it ended when we won,” he finally said. “It’s not so quiet in here, you know. Less time to sit and mope.”
And he shrugged. Baseball players talk about burying their personal goals for the sake of the team. But that is impossible. The heart wants. The mind dreams. So the game was won, but the streak was over, and Trammell was an intersection of we and me, one part happy, one part sad.
“You’ll get ’em, tomorrow,” somebody said, as he headed off to get dressed.
“No, I won’t,” Trammell answered.
Then he grinned.
“We’re off tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll get ’em the next day.”