On September 9, 1965, Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax became the only Dodger pitcher in franchise history (Brooklyn and Los Angeles) to throw a perfect game, thus etching his name in baseball history forever and becoming one of only 23 players to toss a perfect game.
Last night, September 9, 2013, forty-eight years to the day after Koufax’s perfect game, Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe came one swing away from etching his name in history as well, and for something that is even rarer than throwing a perfect game – hitting four home runs in a single game, which has happened only 16 times in MLB history.
Uribe, who ended his night going 4 for 4, hit solo home runs in the second, third and fifth innings, two off of Diamondbacks right-hander Randall Delgado and the third off of left-hander Eury De La Rosa. In his fourth and final at bat of the night Uribe singled on a hard grounder to D-backs third baseman Eric Chavez, thus coming one home run shy of immortality.
In addition to going 4 for 4, Uribe had four RBIs and scored three runs in the Dodgers’ 8-1 shellacking of the soon-to-be-eliminated second place D-backs (the magic number is now eight).
Ironically or perhaps even a bit Twilight Zone-ish, the last National League player to hit four home runs in a game was former Dodger right fielder Shawn Green, who accomplished this rare feat on May 23, 2002 at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Green just so happened to be at Dodger Stadium last night to catch the ceremonial first pitch as part of a recycling campaign on behalf of the L.A. County Department of Public Works. If this doesn’t make you say “whoa” nothing will.
Interestingly, Green isn’t the only Dodger to have accomplished this rarer-than-a-perfect-game feat. On August 31, 1950, Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges hit four home runs in a game at Ebbets Field. The last American League player to hit four home runs in a game was Josh Hamilton last season on May 8, 2012 while still a member of the Texas Rangers.
But wait, there’s more!
In addition to Uribe’s three home runs, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez also homered last night. The last time the Dodgers hit six (or more) home runs in a single game was on September 18, 2006 when Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson went back-to-back-to-back-to-back followed by an extra-inning walk-off home run by Nomar Garciapara. Anderson had hit a home run earlier in the game, thus giving the Dodgers seven on the night. The Dodger record for most home runs in a single game is eight, set in the Shawn Green four home run game.
Uribe, who is in the final year of a 3-year/$21M contract with the Dodgers, had an abysmal first two seasons with the club. In fact, Uribe was relegated to ‘riding the pines’ during the final weeks of the 2012 season with the sudden emergence of fan favorite Luis Cruz, who absolutely tore it up both offensively and defensively as the Dodgers everyday third baseman. Cruz did so well, in fact, that there were almost daily rumors that Uribe would be designated for assignment in spite of the $8M still owed to him for the 2013 season. But instead of sulking, Uribe continued to work hard, primarily with assistant hitting coach John Valintin, and turned everything around – so much so that Uribe is now technically the Dodgers everyday third baseman.
The one thing that has remained consistent with Uribe during his entire time with the Dodgers is that he is absolutely loved by his teammates and coaches alike. Even during his horrible first two seasons with the club, Dodger manager Don Mattingly frequently told members of the media that Uribe was a great clubhouse guy and a great veteran presence. Just how much is Uribe adored by his teammates?
“He’s such a good guy,” said last night’s winning pitcher Ricky Nolasco. “Everybody messes with him, he messes with everybody … He’s a clown, he’s funny, he’s the jokester of the team. It’s a lot of fun watching.”
Uribe’s offensive success this season, including his (now) ten home runs has earned him the nicknames “Papi’ and ‘King Kong’. The latter has generated quite a comical relationship with teammates Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez, who now feed him bananas whenever he hits a home run or does some other super-strength feat. After his third home run last night, Uribe was called upon by 52,410 in attendance at Dodger Stadium to make a curtain call, to which he obliged by waving to the cheering crowd. As he stepped back down into the dugout, Puig promptly stuffed a banana in Uribe’s mouth with Ramirez standing behind Puig with another banana in hand.
When asked about the banana antics, Dodger manager Don Mattingly made it clear that this was their deal, not his.
“”I don’t think I should be involved with that,” Mattingly said with a chuckle. “Only they can do that.”
On a more serious note, Mattingly said that he has never given up on the 34-year-old Baní, Dominican Republic native.
“The one thing about Juan is he always, always, always in the three years he’s been here, he’s been a good defender. He always played third base and been quality there and I think the thing with us last year that opened our eyes is just how good he is (and) how good of a teammate he was last year.
“You see that, a guy with great character, good teammate and all of us appreciated that,” added Mattingly. “Juan came (into spring training) in great shape, he swung the bad good early, he worked with (Mark McGwire) and those guys in spring training and really from spring training on and just continued to get big hits for us.”
Uribe will be a free agent at the end of the season and his future with the Dodgers is uncertain. But as good as he has been this year, Ned Colletti will undoubtedly give serious consideration to bringing Uribe back – but probably only on a one-year deal. But regardless, there is little doubt that Uribe will be an important part of the Dodgers post-season play.