There is no sport more agonizing than baseball, no sport more spiritually testing than the American pastime.
That’s a fact the Blue Devils are becoming painfully aware of.
Duke found itself on the losing end of another series against a quality opponent this past weekend, falling in two out of three games at No. 12 Notre Dame. The Blue Devils were not far off from winning the series: On Friday, a couple errors on routine pickoff attempts in the third inning surrendered six bases and two runs in an extra-innings loss; on Saturday, a balk and a couple of strange bounces of the ball in the outfield grass constituted the difference in a four-run loss. There was really no point in the series in which the Fighting Irish outclassed Duke.
“There's going to be some days that you play well in the ACC, and you come out on the wrong side, just because you're playing really good teams,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “I looked again yesterday—we [have] played one of the five or six toughest schedules in the country. And you know what, you play really good teams, sometimes you're gonna lose. That's the life of baseball. This is a sport that tends to migrate back toward .500. And so guys have to understand that, if you're doing some things well, that tends to even itself out in the long run.”
As such, the series really told the story of the Blue Devils’ season thus far. Duke (8-8, 4-5 in the ACC) has faced the nation’s second-hardest schedule thus far, second to only the top-ranked team in the country. The Blue Devils have played the current eighth, 12th, and 14th-ranked teams in the country, yet over the course of their first 16 games have outperformed their opponents in nearly every statistical category.
A .500 record against incredible difficulty, with even better peripherals, is a recipe for a top-flight team. It’s fair to say Duke doesn't have to worry about major adjustments. Though to continually perform the same actions and hope for different results—well that’s the cliché definition of insanity, of course.
But baseball is a sport designed to make lunatics out of the most unflappable of men. Which other game demands perfect repetition, 100 times, on a daily basis, to qualify success? What other pastime would ask that you spend the vast majority of your time in the field standing alone in anticipation of the seconds here and there when you become the lone star? What other activity could allow for a 30% success rate to be exceptional?
“It's a long grind. And when you play really good teams, you're not going to win them all. That's life in the ACC,” Pollard said. “And our guys need to understand that if you're doing things the right way, that will even itself out in the long run, and [Sunday's 2-0 win was] a good example of that.”
The Blue Devils haven’t come this far in their individual careers to have their resolves shaken by a tough-luck start. Reliever Marcus Johnson’s breakout, left fielder RJ Schreck’s scorching start and first baseman Chris Crabtree’s newfound power should provide positive takeaways from the trip to South Bend, Ind., as Duke gears up for UNC-Greensboro Tuesday and No. 10 Georgia Tech at home this upcoming weekend.
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