Colorado Rockies (occasional) first baseman Jason Giambi turned 40 in January, and this spring he's looked every bit his age. Used just occasionally by manager Jim Tracy, entering Thursday's action Giambi had collected only three hits -- including one home run -- in 26 at-bats. Thursday night in Philadelphia, Giambi got the start at first base only because Todd Helton was suffering from a stiff back.
In the event, Giambi exploded for three home runs and drove in all seven Colorado runs in the Rockies' 7-1 blowout of the Phillies. He's now got 419 round-trippers, but this was his first three-homer game.
Giambi opened his power spree against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, who entered his second start of the season with a 1.66 ERA, in the top of the first inning. With two outs and two on, Giambi launched a knee-high fastball into the second deck in right. In the third, Giambi came up again with two outs, but just one runner aboard. This time Kendrick hung a rain-soaked slider, and Giambi went to almost exactly the same spot, but falling just short of the second deck.
Down 5-0 after three innings, with Kendrick having thrown 73 pitches already, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel selected reliever Danys Baez as Giambi's next victim. Baez did pitch a perfect fourth, but then the Thursday-night pitching was easy when Jason Giambi was rooted to the bench. In the fifth, Ryan Spilborghs led off with a ground-out, but Troy Tulowitzki reached safely on Placido Polanco's error. That brought up Giambi, Baez hung one of his own sliders, and of course Giambi launched this one too, again to almost the same spot in the right-field stands but with a significantly higher trajectory. Where the first homer was an upper-deck liner and the second a lower-deck laser, the third was a big fly that might have brought rain if the skies hadn't already been drained.
Giambi drove in all seven of the Rockies' runs, but he really needn't have bothered with so many, as Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin pitched brilliantly for seven innings, permitting just four hits and a walk while striking out nine Phillies, the bullpen finishing up with two scoreless innings.
Meanwhile, Giambi is now the second-oldest player to hit three home runs in one game.
Hall of Famer Stan Musial is the oldest. He was 41, and more than halfway to 42. He was not only the oldest, but also the only one of our four quadragenarian sluggers to hit four straight home runs. On July 7, 1962, Musial homered in his last at-bat against the Mets at the old Polo Grounds. And the next day he homered in his first three at-bats, the third blast coming on reliever Bill Hunter's high-and-inside fastball. As Musial later recalled, "I didn't believe in letting an inside pitch getting away at the Polo Grounds."
That one meant something extra to Musial, because his wife and daughter were there. "Now, as I stepped on home plate and turned toward the visitors' dugout, I could see Lil and Janet in their first-row box, standing and clapping. The warm glow I felt had nothing to do with the high thermometer reading."
Like Jason Giambi, Reggie Jackson was 40 when he hit three home runs. Like Giambi, Jackson drove in seven runs in the game. Unlike Giambi, it wasn't the first time for Jackson; he'd done it as a young man in 1969, and then again as a super-duperstar in the 1977 World Series. Reggie's last three-homer came came in 1986 for the Angels, in an 18-3 destruction of the Royals, defending World Champions (but down on their luck just a season later). Jackson homered off starter Dennis Leonard in the first inning, rookie David Cone in the fourth, and Dan Quisenberry in the eighth. Without checking, I'm pretty sure that Jackson wins the prize for toughest pitchers homered against.
Ultimately, every discussion of geriatric sluggers hitting three home runs must end with George Herman Ruth.
In 1934, the Babe was 39 years old and still one of the game's best hitters, but he could hardly move and he didn't get along with his manager -- Ruth thought he should be running the club -- and after that season the Yankees sold him to the Boston Braves. Everything the Babe had showed with the bat in '34 with the Yanks was gone in '35 with the Braves.
Well, almost everything. As May came to a close, it was obvious that Ruth's heart was no longer in the game. Let alone his legs, and through 22 games he was batting just .153 with three home runs and some huge number of fly balls he didn't come anywhere close to catching in left field.
Then, May 25 in Pittsburgh. Red Lucas started for the Pirates. Before the game, his teammates told him not to worry, that the Babe was finished. "Never mind him being through," Lucas said, "I'm the guy pitching to him, and he might start again."
Ruth started again in the first inning, crushing Lucas's first pitch to him well into the right-field stands.
Lucas exited the game after retiring just one batter, replaced by Guy Bush. There was some history there. Bush, then with the Cubs, had spent most of the 1932 World Series screaming profanities at Ruth from the dugout. Bush would later take credit, of sorts, for inspiring Ruth's "Called Shot" home run. On this day, though, Bush threw Ruth a sinker and Ruth drove it out of the yard. In the fifth, Ruth touched Bush for a single. And in the seventh, Bush was still in the game and Bush, a power pitcher by trade, threw Ruth his best fastball, speed-wise if not location-wise.
Location-wise, it was just where the Babe liked it. He drove this one much farther than either of the first two home runs. Reportedly more than 500 feet. Reportedly the longest home run ever hit at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field.
At that, the Babe was replaced in right field. He would play in only five more games, without homering, and was essentially kicked off the roster a week later after refusing to play because of a sore knee. But nobody who was there would ever forget those last three home runs.