Baseball loves its clean, semi-arbitrary marks of success. It loves hitters who sport an average of .300, even though that doesn’t really tell us much (but is irrefutably a good thing). It loves pitchers who keep their ERA under 3.00, even though the same aforementioned qualifier applies.
It loves no-hitters, which are a sign of greatness, even though it often passes over much greater performances in the process, because they don’t fit the parameters.
And it loves cycles, the clean act of hitting for a single, a double, a triple, and a home run, all in the same game.
Hitting for the cycle gets way more attention than, say, hitting for two home runs and two doubles, which is a comfortably better performance. That’s just the way it is.
They’re fun, in part because they’re arbitrary, which in turn makes them rare. Only four players hit for the cycle in 2018, though admittedly one of them did so twice.
At the start of Thursday’s games, only one player had hit for the cycle this season, which is a fairly expected pace.
Then there was a cycle on Thursday, backed up by a cycle on Friday. Two cycles in two days, which was the closest allotment of these dreamy stat lines since Adrian Beltre and Stephen Drew both did it in the same day back in 2008.
On Thursday, the Angels Shohei Ohtani broke out the cycle emphatically.
He did it in decidedly calculated fashion, saving the easy part for last. He opened up the game with a three-run homer in the first inning. It was his eighth home run of the year, despite being just his 134th plate appearance.
He followed that up with an easy-peasy double in the third, and already the announcers had their eye on the prize: “A home run and a double!” the broadcaster declared. “So he’s halfway to the cycle.”
Halfway, indeed. Ohtani hooked one down the line in the fifth inning, and cruised into third standing. The hard part was over. He had set himself up perfectly, and needed just the simple single now.
He got the opportunity in the seventh, and quickly capitalized. It was the cleanest of cycles: Start with the home run, end with the single. Never had to push for an extra base or dirty his pants with a slide. A hit every other inning, like clockwork.
It was also the first ever MLB cycle by a Japanese-born player, which is very cool.
A day later, on Friday’ Cleveland’s Jake Bauers followed suite. Bauer’s cycle was a bit less predictable. Unlike Ohtani, who is hitting .280/.352/.504 on the year, Bauers is hitting .222/.305/.384. And that’s including the cycle. He was hitting a mere .209 coming into Friday’s game.
He started things off with a double, and then things got really interesting, and especially fun. In the fourth inning, in an 0-2 count, Bauers tried to check his swing on a pitch way out of the strike zone. But he didn’t check it enough, and he rolled the ball down the third base line for an infield single. You need a little fortuity for these things.
Six runs later, Cleveland was still batting in the fourth inning, and Bauers ripped a line drive into the left-center gap. It was a rather routine gapper in that it didn’t do anything funny off the wall. Somehow, Bauers made it to third, which is just . . . not something that happens often on balls to left-center.
So while Ohtani saved the easy part for last, Bauers saved the fun part for last, and launched an absolute no-doubter into the right field bleachers in the eighth inning.
The 326th and 327th cycles in MLB history, on back-to-back days.
Baseball is fun.