Babe Ruth. Reggie Jackson. George Brett. Adam Kennedy. That’s the list. At least before Adrian Beltre added his name yesterday. These are the only five men in American League history to homer three times in a playoff game (Bob Robertson of the Pirates is the only NL player to do so). Three Hall of Famers in Ruth, Jackson and Brett, a two-time All-Star (Beltre) and, well, Adam Kennedy.
Anyone can hit a home run in the post-season. Okay, maybe not just anyone but October is filled with memorable feats of strength from unexpected sources. Dusty Rhodes pinch hitting for the Giants in 1954. Mazeroski winning it all for Pittsburgh in ’60. Ozzie Smith’s improbable left-handed game-winner for St. Louis in 1985. None of these men would ever be considered offensive threats, let alone power hitters. Maz and the Wizard found their way to the Hall practically on glove alone. However, it does take a considerable source to find the seats multiple times in one postseason game, and when Beltre etched his name in the record books yesterday afternoon, it served as a reminder that only the strong can slug three in one game- with one very noticeable exception.
Babe Ruth, as you might expect is the first name on this rather exclusive list. The Yankee slugger actually hit three in a game twice in a span of two calendar years. He homered three times in Game 4 of the 1926 World Series against the Cardinals and again in Game 4 of the 1928 Series also against St. Louis. Bob Robertson was the next to achieve this feat 43 years later. The underrated Pirate first baseman hit his three homers against the Giants in Game 2 of the 1971 National League Championship Series. Robertson added a double to his outburst in what is still a playoff record for total bases (14) in a game. Reggie Jackson‘s three came on three consecutive swings in the 1977 Series against the Dodgers in the sixth and final game, and Mr. October has been seen on every post season highlight reel since (though probably not like this). The following fall Kansas City’s George Brett gave the Yankees a taste of their own medicine in Game 3 of the ALCS while batting leadoff. Brett is also the only player to do so in a losing cause. Adrian Beltre‘s solo power display proved to be vital to Texas’s 2011 ALDS Game 4 clincher sending Tampa Bay home 4-3. Oh, and former Angel Adam Kennedy did it, too, in Game 5 of the 2002 ALCS against the Twins, but he doesn’t exactly fit the profile (as the following chart of career home run rate attests):
Career Home Run Rate (AB/HR)
Babe Ruth 11.8
Reggie Jackson 17.5
Bob Robertson 20.7
Adrian Beltre 23.7
George Brett 32.6
Adam Kennedy 68.0
So what is Adam Kennedy, who batted eighth in the order that afternoon, doing on this list? Your guess is as good as mine. The obvious answer would seem to be that he faced homer-friendly pitching, but Twins starter Joe Mays, of whom Kennedy hit his first two round-trippers of the game, had a decent year by his standards gopherball-wise. In the two years prior to ’02 Mays allowed 14 homers to left-handed batters each season and in ’03 Mays gave up 16 HRs to lefties. But in 2002, he only allowed 10, his lowest output of his career as a regular starter. Giving up two in back-to-back ABs to the likes of Adam Kennedy seemed unlikely, especially in Anaheim where the ballpark skewed toward pitchers in 2002, allowing 4 percent fewer home runs than the league average.
Kennedy’s third bomb of the day in the 13-5 series clinching win came off soon-to-be ace Johan Santana. The Minnesota southpaw would go on to win two Cy Young awards (2004, 2006) and was already rounding into form in ’02. Santana gave up 7 HRs the entire season, all of them to right-handed hitters. He was probably the most unlikely candidate in the entire ballpark to serve one up to Kennedy. What are the odds of the left-handed hitting Kennedy taking Santana deep for his third homerun of the game in a decidedly pitcher’s park? A homerun that would propel the Angels into their first World Series appearance, ultimately ending in the only Championship in franchise history? I’d say somewhere around 1 in Awholehelluvalot.