Shawn Green came to the land of beer and bratwurst mired in the worst slump of his eight-year career, a season-long slide that punctured his reputation as one of the game’s premier power hitters, shattered his confidence and prompted fans in Dodger Stadium to boo him during the last home stand.
The Dodger right fielder left Milwaukee on Thursday with his name etched alongside Hall of Famers such as Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt and plastered all over baseball’s record books.
Green enjoyed one of the most prolific single-game performances in baseball history, smashing four home runs and amassing a major league-record 19 total bases to lead the Dodgers to a 16-3 shellacking of the Milwaukee Brewers before 26,728 in Miller Park.
When Green capped a six-hit, six-run, seven-RBI day with a 450-foot homer off reliever Jose Cabrera in the ninth inning, he became only the 14th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a game, a feat Seattle’s Mike Cameron accomplished against the Chicago White Sox on May 2 but has been done only five times in the last 40 years.
“That was awesome--it was like slow-motion when that last ball went out,” Dodger third-base coach Glenn Hoffman said. “I had goose bumps. It gave me chills. To see a ball go out like that, it’s history, man....
“I was like a kid watching him. I mean, how many years are you in this game and you see a guy hit four home runs? That’s the first time for me. And he goes six for six on top of that? And 19 total bases? That’s a day.”
Green, who also doubled and singled for a career-high six hits, broke Joe Adcock’s total-base record of 18, set for the Milwaukee Braves on July 31, 1954.
Green’s six runs set a Dodger franchise record and tied the modern major league mark. His five extra-base hits tied a National League record. His six hits were a career high and tied a franchise record. His seven runs batted in tied his career high, and his four homers helped the Dodgers set a franchise record for homers in a game with eight.
Not bad for a guy who went five consecutive games without hitting a ball out of the infield last week.
“It definitely hasn’t sunk in yet,” Green said. “I wish I had a few days off so I could enjoy it. It’s something I’ll never forget.... When Cameron [hit his four homers] I thought, ‘Man, that’s a great couple of weeks right there.’ No one in this game needed this more than I did, because I was getting pretty down.”
Green had 49 home runs and 125 RBIs last season, but he spent the first month and a half of 2002 in hibernation, leaving the Dodgers to wonder almost wistfully: If we can go five or six games over .500 with so little production from our top batter, what will it be like when Green starts hitting?
They found out this week. Green entered the Milwaukee series in a one-for-19 skid, batting .231 with three home runs. He homered twice in an 8-6 loss Tuesday night, had an RBI triple in Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory and capped the series with Thursday’s memory maker, giving him nine hits, six of them home runs, 10 RBIs, eight runs and 30 total bases in three games. He is batting .265.
Green entered the series on a pace for 11 home runs this season. After a three-run home run to right field off Glendon Rusch in the second inning Thursday, a solo homer to right-center off Brian Mallette in the fourth, a solo homer to left off Mallette in the fifth and his final homer to right-center in the ninth, he is on pace for 31 home runs.
“The ball had been looking like a pingpong ball,” Green said. “Today, it probably looked like a softball. It slowed down a lot. The last six weeks, the ball seemed to be going fast, and I was having a tough time, jumping at pitches. Today, I was able to sit back and wait for it.”
Green made history in blue-collar fashion, showing the same kind of emotion that he did throughout his 11/2-month struggle. That is, none.
“He didn’t show-boat or anything,” Milwaukee coach Cecil Cooper said. “He hit that last one, dropped his head, and that was it. He’s a classy kid.”
Though he rarely showed his frustration during the first seven weeks--Green is not the type to slam bats to the ground or hurl helmets--Manager Jim Tracy said Green has been churning inside all season.
But outside of benching Green for one game last Saturday, Tracy never dropped him from the third or fourth spot in the order, and his teammates never lost faith in him.
“That was phenomenal,” first baseman Eric Karros said of Green’s performance. “The funny thing is, four days ago everyone was ready to write him off, and he got booed in L.A. That’s why you can’t overreact to one game, one series, one week, even one month. People who don’t really know the game sometimes have a tendency to do that.”
Green began to iron out the mechanical problems in his swing and build some confidence Tuesday night, when he homered twice.
His ground-ball triple down the right-field line on a difficult pitch Wednesday night fueled his comeback, and even though he also struck out twice in that game Green said he “felt more in control of my at-bats.”
There was no controlling Green on Thursday. His RBI double scored the first of his team’s three runs in the first inning. His three-run homer highlighted a five-run second. With the game out of reach, he began to relax even more at the plate.
“The first night here, after my first home run, I thought, ‘I finally got one,’” Green said. “Then I hit another one and thought, ‘OK, maybe I’m starting to catch on, and that first one wasn’t a fluke.’ I felt my swing was where I wanted it to be, which is something I hadn’t felt all season.
“Then I hit that triple [Wednesday] on the kind of inside pitch that was eating me up all season. Little signs like that help you realize that things are right.”
But the biggest signs were yet to come.
“That was an amazing feat,” Tracy said. “You can go to a lot of games, and you won’t see another offensive day like that by one individual in a long time, if ever.”
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By the Numbers
Players who have hit four homers in a major league game.
Total bases by Green, a record.
Hits for Green, in as many at-bats. Also, runs scored by Green.
Estimated distance, in feet, that Green’s homers traveled.
Green’s slugging percentage before the game.
Green’s slugging percentage now.
Green’s batting average before Thursday.
Green’s batting average now.
Dodgers to hit four homers in a game (Green, Gil Hodges).
Home runs this season Green had Tuesday morning.
Home runs this season for Green now.
Homers hit by Dodgers on Thursday.