By Jack Etkin
The deep hole had become something worse for backup infielder Pat Valaika, a pit, really, and one that seemed bottomless as one hitless at-bat followed another and his slump became epic.
Worse, there was a suspended-animation feel to the misery for the Rockies’ reserve. Not that a prolonged string of futile at-bats has much in the way of animation.
But when Valaika doubled on his second at-bat in the fifth inning April 8 against Atlanta’s Julio Teheran, it was the last hit he would get at the big-league level for nearly three months. On Friday, Valaika pinch-hit against Dodgers’ left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who took the mound 9-1 with a 1.27 ERA. There were no outs, a runner on first and the Dodgers were leading 5-2 in the fifth when Ryu threw a first-pitch changeup that Valaika drove into the left-field stands.
The home run broke an 0-for-30 slide, the second-longest in Rockies franchise history and topped only by the 0-for-33 misery Desi Relaford endured in 2005. Failure is a lurking companion even for hitters who are succeeding. When there’s not even a whiff of success, as was Valaika’s fate, self -doubt arises.
The fact he had hit .339 in 44 games at Triple-A Albuquerque in two different stints during the midst of the slump did not alleviate the doubt.
“It’s only natural,” he said. “But I think I’m pretty good at realizing when it’s creeping in, just cut it off real fast, because if I let that get in, it’s not going to be good.”
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