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The catharsis of Trayce Thompson’s slump-breaking game

Or “Breaking a slump in the best way possible.”

Trayce Thompson hits a home run in Tampa. Tropicana Field. May 28, 2023.
Trayce Thompson hits a home run in Tampa. Tropicana Field. May 28, 2023.
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

When I wrote Trayce Thompson’s year in review for 2022, I picked that retrospective because his arc was inspirational and reminded me of Ron Howard’s somewhat forgotten film, ‘Cinderella Man.’

I am not sure why the film was forgotten. Russell Crowe was fine as former heavyweight champ Jim Braddock, but Paul Giamatti was clearly having a ball as Braddock’s manager, Joe Gould. Giamatti can certainly chew up the scenery when he wants to. For the record, the Braddock/Corn Griffith fight in the clip was portrayed fairly accurately, which cannot be said for the championship fight.

I bring up Braddock to describe what happened to him after becoming champion. Braddock lost the title on his first defense when Joe Louis knocked Braddock out for the only time in his career. In Braddock’s defense, he did knock Louis down for the first time in his career before being knocked out.

Everyone remembers the underdog story, but most forget what happens after the story reaches its conclusion. And sometimes, we all tend to forget that professional athletes are people like you and me. Our failures are not regionally or nationally known.

The slump

It is almost quaint to forget that the original hope for Thompson at the beginning of the year would be that he would improve his splits against left-handed pitching. On April 1, Thompson had his best night of the season with three home runs against the Diamondbacks.

Over the next eight weeks, Thompson had four hits in 61 at-bats with 34 strikeouts. As I previously wrote, Stephen Nelson’s call from that night to “Stop it!” felt like it turned into a Ron Howard bit or a monkey’s paw wish. The original version of this essay was going to point out that Thompson had regressed to the point that even center-cut fastballs of average speed were being taken for strikeouts.

To Thompson’s credit, he did not complain, he did not declare himself the worst hitter in the league and feel sorry for himself, he just kept going. In a recent interview with Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, Thompson said that he was just trying to stay positive.

“You just try to stay positive and know that, the fact of the matter is, it’s a long season. You have to really take that to heart,” Thompson said. “It’s coming. I know it is. I feel like you can be two ways about it. You can be pouty about it – ‘Woe is me.’ Or you can be, ‘You know what? I’m due.’ I feel like I have to choose the latter. I’ve served my time. Now it’s time to get hot.”

Thompson had reverse splits last year ,hitting right-handed pitching at a better clip than left-handed pitching. Considering the makeup of the current roster, someone who could consistently hit left-handed pitching would have considerably more runway to try and address a prolonged slump and stay at the major league level.

Moreover, as I pointed out last year, Thompson is out of options.

As such, he cannot be sent to the minors without being designated for assignment, which would mean that the Dodgers could potentially lose him if they try to send him down. Moreover, Thompson does not yet have the requisite five years of major league service time to refuse the assignment. At that point, it would just be a question of whether a team would take a chance on Thompson if he was designated him for assignment.

Thompson had himself a day in Tampa

Now Thompson did pinch-hit on May 27 against the Rays, struck out to extend his hitless streak to 39 at-bats. I initially reacted with comedic horror when I saw that Thompson was starting on the 28th. Admittedly, I had flashbacks to September 9, 2021, in St. Louis, where I had an objectively amazing seat ... to watch a starting lineup including Steven Souza, Jr. and Billy McKinney.

I did figure that a lineup that had Chris Taylor at cleanup and the likes of Thompson, Austin Barnes, and Miguel Rojas starting would either score 14 runs or strike out a lot, because baseball. I was wrong.

They only scored ten runs, but we will further explore that game in a companion piece.

And along the way, Thompson finally, mercifully, cracked it on a 700-hopper through shortstop. The screaming you hear in the clip is me. The RBI is nice but just the sheer catharsis by proxy is what did it for me.

While I did get footage of Thompson’s second hit, it is his third hit, which merits a further look. Thompson hit an absolute bomb to straight centerfield in the visual nightmare that is Tropicana Field. It was indeed a mighty wallop.

I am hardly one to say that Thompson is indeed back. He had one excellent game in a wild, chaotic, sloppy affair that was an absolute joy to be there in person. Also, as you can see, I had a spectacular seat for this game. But before I move onto the imminent field report, I will share that in a game where Thompson went 3-for-3 with a homer and a walk, Dave Roberts still pinch-hit for Thompson at the conclusion of this wild game.

The issue became moot, but I had no idea that Roberts subscribed to the Monty Burns style of managing, which I share for you proving that there is a Classic Simpsons bit for almost any occasion. Regardless of what happens next, Thompson had himself quite a day last Sunday that I will not soon forget.