Up close in a quiet locker room, the Toronto Blue Jays look like invincibly muscled monsters, not a family full of fragile psyches.
It's easy to forget every contender has its giants, its gifted ones. Down on the field, the margin between one man and another, one team and another, can seem skinnier than the foul pole.
When you're Bill Caudill, getting paid millions, and go a month without a save, you think a slump is like some unsuspected tidal wave that carries you along with it out of control.
"You just try not to capsize," he said.
If you're Lloyd Moseby, the best-talking, best-looking and just plain all-around best Blue Jay going, and you're hitting .244, you go back to soul basics: "No matter what, nobody's going to destroy my confidence. You cannot have my pride. I'll let a lot of things slide. But we'll fight over the pride."
If you're the whole Blue Jays team and you go from the hottest streak in club history right into a six-game losing spin, you have to face the fundamental trauma of pennant races: coping with and conquering the inevitable big slump.
"What's so funny is one day you can't believe how good you feel and the next day you're completely lost. You say, 'How'd I lose it overnight ?' " said catcher Ernie Whitt. "The difference between you and the next guy is so small you can't even let yourself think about it."
That's where bugbear slumps like the one the Blue Jays just endured, like others that still await them, are born.
Ten days ago, Toronto (then 38-19) had a 6 1/2-game American League East lead and a potential sleeper hold on a pennant race. Survive a four-game series in Fenway Park, yawn through three in Milwaukee, then come home for a comfy home stand and Toronto, by the Fourth of July, could have a 10-game lead.
Then, on an unlucky 13th, the Blue Jays' bullpen -- their equivalent of The Last House on the Left -- started setting fires again. Arson has never been in fashion, so you wonder why Toronto keeps trying to revive it as a popular art form.
After torching 10 runs worth of late leads in Fenway, the Blue Jays had themselves a four-game losing streak. Numb with deja vu, they "didn't get a loud foul for two days in Milwaukee," according to Manager Bobby Cox.
"It was a long road trip," said center fielder Moseby. "We looked like the Bad News Bears in Boston. I couldn't wait to get out of Fenway. But we're a mature bunch. There's no rattle here. When we lose, we say, 'Tomorrow.' If we lose again, 'Tomorrow.' And if we lose again, 'Hey, tomorrow.'
"But you know you start losing your voice on 'Tomorrow' after about the fifth one."
Especially the Blue Jays.
Last year they had spells of 0-6, 0-5, 0-5, 0-5. The year before, they were in first place more days than anybody but did a late dive and disappeared. Fans started calling Exhibition Stadium "Exasperation Stadium."
The Toronto pace car has proved it has everything except long-term performance. And opponents of the Blue Jays won't let them forget past habits.
"Toronto may be leading in the standings (by 2 1/2 games), but to me there's no leader now. Their lead means nothing," Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson has been quoted here as saying.
"It reminds me of that movie, 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?' I want to see Boston, Detroit, New York and Baltimore at Toronto's dinner table every night for the rest of the season. We'll see how they handle that for the next 97 games. Can they take a visitor each night? I don't know but I want to find out . . .
"We got a free ride last year and Toronto had that chance this year," added Anderson, salting the wound. "But they brought everyone back into the race . . . Two weeks ago, they had a chance to end this thing . . . Now they've only got one chance in five -- just like the rest of us . . . They're probably saying to themselves, 'How in hell did we ever let it get away?' "
That's how Anderson wants Toronto to feel. But he might not get his wish.
On Thursday, the Blue Jays came home and welcomed the same Boston team that had sent them into their slide. The first Toronto pitch drilled the first Red Sox batter right in the wallet. Boston retaliated by hitting the first Toronto hitter, but the point had been made. The low-key Blue Jays were mad.
No sooner had Boston built a 5-1 lead than Toronto set Boston's pen ablaze with five late runs in a 6-5 victory.
Relaxed by the team's second straight victory, Cox joked that those six losses were just "so everybody can set attendance records."
"A couple of years ago, we (fell out of) first place and people said we weren't mentally tough enough," said Garth Iorg, a platoon man hitting .340. "That wasn't it. It was just the bullpen. Now, a losing stretch like we went through isn't terminal."
Baseball poses many tests in six months. Emotional resiliency and endurance are essential since every flaw, no matter how small, has its day to cause havoc. However, no quality is more valuable, or more rare, than a knack for forgiving your own sins. Few players, and fewer teams, have it.
Winning streaks breed excessive expectations, losing streaks excessive censure. It's the ballplayer's burden.
This city probably won't be much help to the Blue Jays next time that ugly tidal wave picks them up and tries to capsize them. Even sophisticated fans have trouble accepting that a fine team can lose every day for a week without loafing or even playing that poorly.
Despite its gentle disposition, Toronto is far from sophisticated about baseball. Grown men, who've obviously learned to throw a ball at an advanced age, play catch like happy little kids beside Exhibition Stadium. It's a quaint, sweet sight. But will these same fans have the baseball savvy to say, "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow," when the going gets tough?
Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe only the men inside a clubhouse know how vulnerable they feel behind their masks of muscle. Perhaps they've always known that when a slump comes and tears away their security, leaving them exposed to every cry of "choke," their only strength is in each other. And that can seem a weak defense indeed.
"The truth," Caudill said, "is that nobody handles losing very well."