On the afternoon of April 22, Yasmani Grandal walked into the visitors' clubhouse in San Francisco looking like a new player. In his first nine games with the Dodgers, Grandal's hair flowed out the back of his catcher's mask like a lion's mane.
But after starting the season in a six-for-32 rut, the hair had to go. He snipped it away to a neat trim. And with it, apparently, went the pressure of heavy expectations after joining a new team.
After the cosmetic modification, Grandal has been rejuvenated at the plate — like Samson, only in reverse. In the 14 games since, he has 16 hits in 41 at-bats (.390), 10 runs batted in and three home runs, including a walk-off home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.
And in a 14-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, he had one of the best offensive days by a catcher in recent history. Grandal hit two home runs and knocked in eight runs, a career high and the most by a Dodgers hitter since James Loney tied a franchise mark with nine RBIs in 2006. He was four for four and reached base six times.
The last time a catcher reached base as many times with as many home runs and RBIs was in 1949.
Grandal's recent production is what the Dodgers were hoping for when they traded Matt Kemp and cash to the Padres for Grandal and two minor leaguers during the off-season. The previous year, in the first major league season he had more than 200 at-bats, Grandal hit 15 home runs and had 49 RBIs.
Early in the season, Zack Greinke called Grandal's work behind the plate "better than advertised," but Grandal was acquired for his bat. The Dodgers have esteemed his offense enough to warrant him catching Clayton Kershaw twice this season over A.J. Ellis, their ace's longtime batterymate.
Grandal said he was eager to make an impact, and early on he tried too hard to knock in runs. Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said he has seen that before in new players.
"You come over, you're a guy that nobody knows, really," Mattingly said. "They know you in spring training — that doesn't really count. And all of a sudden you're not swinging the bat that great early on. I felt like he was pressing there."
Mattingly said he noticed a change after Grandal's walk-off home run. After a hit like that, he said, a player can feel more comfortable, as though he belongs.
Gradually, Grandal said, he has learned to trust himself.
"You belong here," he told himself. "You're not going to have to do too much, you're going to help out. Just relax and play."
The recent surge has erased memories from earlier in the year. Grandal's batting average swelled from .261 to .301 in one day, and he has four home runs and 12 RBIs.
It is early, but the difference between Grandal and Kemp has not been significant. Kemp owns a better average and more RBIs, but Grandal leads in home runs and has a better on-base-plus-slugging average.
On Thursday, Mattingly moved Grandal to the No. 2 spot in the order. Grandal stayed patient. He didn't have an RBI and walked twice in his first three at bats. Then, he knocked in two runs to blow the game open in the sixth inning and smoked three-run home runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
It was the best day at the plate of his career, long hair or short. But he is not yet ready to recommend the slump-busting technique to his teammates.
"I don't know for every slumping player," Grandal said. "But for me, it works."