Imagine if Kentucky’s basketball or football teams lost five of their last six games. How would fans, media, players and coaches react? Or, more precisely, overreact?
Kentucky’s baseball team has lost five of its last six games. Yet, when asked Wednesday what he’d learned about his team during these troubled times, UK Coach Gary Henderson sighed audibly.
These things happen, he said in so many words.
“The best team in the big leagues is going to lose 52 games this year,” Henderson said. “So there’s always things to get better at and improve upon.”
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Arkansas, which plays a three-game series at Kentucky beginning Thursday, brings its own example of a mature perspective that can seem unique to baseball. The Razorbacks have lost eight straight Southeastern Conference games, and not led even once in any of them.
When asked about how Arkansas needed to respond to this misfortune, shortstop Michael Bernal all but shrugged.
“Keep playing,” he said. “That’s baseball. Nobody’s losing their minds over it.”
As Ed Harris said in Apollo 13: Work the problem, people.
Henderson acknowledged that baseball requires its participants to accept that bad things happen to good guys. In other words, baseball is different.
“It needs to be or you’re in the wrong sport if you don’t have that perspective,” the UK coach said.
As in basketball and football, losing can strain a baseball team’s chemistry. Henderson suggested that might be especially true in baseball.
“In our sport, there’s a lot of down time,” he said. “There’s a lot of dead time. And they’ve got to like one another, and they’ve got to get along. And I think it’s really important. I really do.”
Tuesday provided Henderson a fresh chance to rely on perspective. Kentucky lost at archrival Louisville 7-6. UK’s reliable bullpen could not make a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning stand up.
“You don’t make anything more than you need to out of a bad outing,” Henderson said “It’s one of 15 or 20 for these kids. You just move forward.”
Arkansas comes to Kentucky off a victory. The Razorbacks beat Creighton 6-2 Tuesday. But in its previous 10 games, Arkansas only beat Memphis and Louisiana-Monroe, the last two teams on the schedule with losing records.
The Razorbacks haven’t won an SEC game since April Fool’s Day (7-6 over Missouri).
“We’re not dogging them,” Coach Dave Van Horn said. “We’re just working, getting better. If we win, we win. If we don’t, we don’t.”
That surely sounds odd to Kentucky basketball fans, who can lament a shot that rattles in rather than swish.
“It’s about the process, and sometimes the process is what it is and the result’s not what you want,” Van Horn said. “We have to ride it out until we get there and it might be next year. It might be the year after.”
Arkansas, which has a 4-11 record in SEC play, faces a difficult second half of the league schedule. Opponents include No. 3 Texas A&M, No. 7 LSU and No. 11 Mississippi State.
Henderson and Van Horn spoke highly of each other’s teams.
“When you play Dave’s clubs, they’re really going to be aggressive on the bases,” Henderson said. “They all compete really well, and they’ve got front-line guys.”
Van Horn said Arkansas would face a formidable starting pitcher in each of the three games in Cliff Hagan Stadium.
“From a pitching standpoint, they have as good a rotation as anybody in the country if you’re going one, two and three,” the Arkansas coach said. “A lot of teams will have one big-time guy, two guys, but not three usually that are that quality.”
As it enters the second half of the SEC schedule, Arkansas chooses to hit the reset button. It’s the baseball thing to do.
“Yup,” first baseman Clark Eagan said. “The first half’s over with and there’s nothing we can do about it. . . . We’re just taking it as the start of a new season. A fresh start. Every game. Every pitch is opening day. That’s how we’re looking at it.”
Arkansas at Kentucky
7 p.m. (SEC Network)