Baseball hit with outbreak of multihomer games

Baseball hit with outbreak of multihomer games

Baseball hit with outbreak of multihomer games
Power hitters have at least one thing in common. They will tell you that they rarely, if ever, go deep when they're trying to hit home runs. Big flies tend to take flight in the natural course of things with the perfect sequence: the right pitch in the right location meeting the right swing at the right moment.

"Right on!" echo fans in love with the long ball.

It seems incongruous on the surface, but in a season of overpowering pitching, we've seen an outbreak of multihomer games. The leader of the slugging pack is Texas superstar Josh Hamilton, who has scalded baseballs in the past week as few hitters have in the game's history.

Right alongside Hamilton, although he hasn't received nearly as much media attention, is Carlos Beltran, a man with a rich history of awe-inspiring power streaks.

Hamilton's four-homer eruption in Baltimore on Tuesday night -- a feat that is rarer statistically than a perfect game -- highlighted his personal rampage (nine homers in six games) and served as the centerpiece of an early-season onslaught across the Major League landscape.

Though the dramatic nature of these multihomer games suggests a rise above the norm, they're actually a tick down when compared with the trends of the past five years. There have been, through Monday, 46 multihomer games in 1,030 total games -- .45 percent. In 2011 there were 232, for .47 percent. Amazingly, the numbers in 2010 and 2009 were identical: 276 multihomer games out of 4,860, for .56 percent. The figure was slightly higher in 2008: 284 games, .58 percent.

That elusive zone hitters seek is being found in an uncommonly high number of pressure situations, resulting in game-deciding blasts finishing multihomer efforts.

"Home runs don't come if you go looking for them," hitting sage Bobby Abreu, now with the Dodgers, once said. "They're a reward for taking the right approach and following through with it, not trying to do too much."

Reds first baseman Joey Votto took the right approach against the Nationals on Sunday, unloading three homers and finishing with a bang. It was the first time in the live-ball era that a player has completed the trifecta with a game-winning grand slam.

Votto made a safe, pain-free landing on home plate amid the customary crowd of celebratory teammates. Giancarlo Stanton also made it home safely in a mob of Marlins mates after his walk-off slam the same day.

Nobody wants to see another Kendrys Morales incident, with a walk-off homer ending in a debilitating injury. The Angels' slugger is just now regaining form following his fateful May 2010 slam, which resulted in a fractured ankle that required two surgeries.

Votto and Stanton are in rare company. Not since April 10, 1998, when Boston's Mo Vaughn and San Diego's Steve Finley closed games with slams, has it happened twice on the same day.

Though he's been overshadowed somewhat by the early-season exploits of Hamilton and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, Beltran is up to his old tricks, with three multihomer games this season. These came in the space of nine games starting May 2, against Pittsburgh, Arizona and Atlanta.

This stretch gives the Cardinals' new outfielder -- acquired essentially, to help fill the void left by Albert Pujols' departure -- 33 career multihomer games, good for eighth among active players. That doesn't include two postseason multihomer efforts contributing to the 11 homers Beltran has struck in just 22 postseason games.

Not surprisingly, Alex Rodriguez is the active leader, with 59 multihomer extravaganzas, having gone deep three times in a game four times. A-Rod is followed by Jim Thome (48), Pujols and Andruw Jones (42 each), Chipper Jones and Jason Giambi (39), David Ortiz (38) and Mark Teixeira (34).

The all-time kingpin is Babe Ruth, with 73 multihomer games, two more than Barry Bonds.

Hamilton is the first hitter since Carlos Delgado in 2003 to bash four homers in a game. Lou Gehrig, the Yankees' legendary Iron Horse, had the first four-homer game in the American League, in 1932 against the Philadelphia Athletics.

Hamilton has had sizzling streaks before, but never anything like this.

"I wish the game was that easy," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "Josh makes it look that easy, but it's really not."

Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, hit a double to go with his four homers for eight RBIs and an AL-record 18 total bases in a game, breaking the previous AL standard of 16, set by six players.

It was Hamilton's fifth multihomer game and second of the season. He unloaded twice against the Angels on Friday night, giving him seven long balls in four games.

"Same old stuff," Hamilton said. "Not trying to do too much. No thinking, just reaction. It's been a good week. I'm thanking God for it. I'm trying to stay out of the way and think as little as possible and go out there and just go. Just ride it while it's going."

Ryan Braun felt the same way on May 1, when he launched three homers in San Diego, his 13th lifetime multihomer assault. The Brewers' left fielder and reigning National League MVP also tripled that day.

When Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson hammered the Twins for three homers on April 19, it was his 12th career multihomer game.

Votto's three-homer day was his second. Canada's gift to Cincinnati now has nine multihomer exhibitions.

One young slugger stepping out of the shadows is Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks. With most of the national fanfare going to the Nationals' Bryce Harper and the Angels' Mike Trout, the 23-year-old Texan also is turning heads, hitting four homers in his first 10 games for the Red Sox.

His first Major League blast was about as theatrical as they come: a grand slam at Fenway Park. It was followed by his first multihomer bash, in Kansas City on May 7. He homered to right field to get started and launched the second missile high off the left-field foul pole. He also doubled to center.

Offense might be down in a lot of places, but when a hitter gets hot in 2012, good luck cooling him down.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.