Clean single up the middle. That was Justin Ruggiano’s initial thought when the ball left his bat his first time up Wednesday.
“I was starting to round first a little bit — or about to,” Ruggiano said of the mental picture inside his head as he was running up the first-base line, running to keep his name out of the record books.
Then Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar dove, came up with the ball, and fired to first.
“I saw him dive and I was like, ‘Oh no! Don’t do it!,’” Ruggiano said.
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But the throw was a split-second late, first base umpire Dan Iassogna signaled safe, and Ruggiano felt the massive weight of a gorilla-sized hitting slump lift from his shoulders.
After 42 consecutive at-bats without a hit — three shy of the single-season major-league record for a position player — the long drought was over. Ruggiano not only recorded his first hit since July 8, but contributed two more in a 5-2 win for the Marlins.
“It was a great day for him and a big lift for the team,” said manager Mike Redmond after the Marlins closed out a 3-6 road trip by taking the series from the Royals. “After he got the hit, guys [in the dugout] were clapping, standing on the top step. Nobody likes to see a teammate to grind that hard to try to get a hit.”
Ruggiano acknowledged afterward that the drought was taxing on him mentally. It was all he could think about as, one hitless at-bat after another, he closed in on an all-time record for futility, the 45-game hit mark first established in 1909 by Bill Bergen and matched in 2011 by Craig Counsell. Eugenio Velez had a 46-game hitless streak over two seasons.
“I wouldn’t wish anyone to be in that spot,” Ruggiano said. “It was terrible. It got to a point where I wasn’t even making solid contact. It become such a focal point that you kind of forget what the team is doing almost.”
But everyone knew, even without saying so.
“Guys were starting to give me pats on the back, [trying to] pick me up a little bit, [saying] ‘Come on. Come on. Today’s the day,’” Ruggiano said.
When he beat out the infield hit in the second, Ruggiano said it “felt like a monkey off my back.”
He even asked for the ball, the way a rookie does after his first big-league hit.
“Heck yeah I’m getting that ball,” said Ruggiano, reaching into his equipment back and producing the baseball to show reporters. “If he had caught that ball, I would have run all the way to the bullpen and just sat down.”
Despite his prolonged slump, Ruggiano found his name in the starting lineup Wednesday as another slumping outfielder, Giancarlo Stanton, was given the day off. Ruggiano did more than end his slump. He contributed an RBI single in the fourth inning to tie the score and added another hit in the sixth off Royals starter Ervin Santana.
It was a sloppy game for both sides.
A fielding error by Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria contributed to a Royals run in the fourth. And Royals third baseman Elliot Johnson’s error in the seventh allowed the Marlins to take the lead with two unearned runs. The Marlins added two more runs in the ninth on back-to-back singles by Donovan Solano and Logan Morrison.
The Marlins survived starter Jacob Turner’s shaky outing. Turner walked a career-high six batters and gave up four hits in five innings, but managed to limit the Royals to only two runs, only one of which was earned.
“It’s not always going to be pretty, but at the end of the day we won the game,” Turner said. “The ball was definitely moving. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t know which way it was going to go. I’m just proud of the team for staying in the game, because it can easily snowball in that situation.”
But the day really belonged to Ruggiano.
“Not that I made much solid contact today, but a hit’s a hit,” Ruggiano said of his three soft singles. “I’ll never take that for granted again, I’ll tell you that.”