Esposito: The Three Homer Club

When some future reporter interviews Kirk Nieuwenhuis and asks what was his best day in the majors from a personal standpoint, it won’t take long for the outfielder to answer. He’ll harken back to July 12, 2015, when he hit three home runs in one game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, as the backbone in a 5-3 win for the Mets.

“Capt. Kirk” set a team mark as the first Met to launch three “photon torpedos” in a home game. “Fascinating,” as a certain Vulcan used to say. Nieuwenhuis was the tenth Met to hit three longballs in one game, but only the first to do so for the home team?

Yes, and another quirky note in Mets history has been achieved. It took 53 years and 54 and half seasons to do so, but they “made it so.”

Ike Davis was the last Met to hit three in one game, coincidentally also against the D-Backs, but out in Arizona on July 28, 2012. But it was in a loss, dropping a 6-3 decision to those desert snakes while all three home runs were against the same pitcher, Ian Kennedy.

Perhaps Kennedy wasn’t as concerned since all three solo homers were the only runs yielded as he earned the win. And if you want to add a trivia note to both occasions, Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill are the only two Diamondbacks to be on the field for both times a Met hit three fence-toppers against them.

Nieuwenhuis’ first blast came in the second, against Arizona’s Rubby De La Rosa and barely did top the fence in left field. It clearly did in replays, but it did prompt Arizona’s skipper Chip Hale (a former Mets coach) to demand a video challenge.

Nieuwenhuis’ second home run of the day came just one inning later, also off De La Rosa, and again to left center, but this time there was no doubt as it reached the fans in the stands.

After hitting zero home runs for the entire 2015 season in 32 games and 44 at-bats (mostly in pinch-hitting attempts), batting just .091 coming into the game, Nieuwenhuis established his “best day” highlight in the fifth with a big fly down the right field line that clanged off the net extending from the right field foul pole. This came off another righthander, Randall Delgado.

Hale brought in a lefthander in the sixth, Andrew Chafin, so when Nieuwenhuis came up in the seventh with the rare opportunity of being able to hit four home runs in one game, something no Met has ever done, and achieved only a handful of times in baseball history (see Lou Gehrig, Joe Adcock, Gil Hodges, et al), Nieuwenhuis struck out swinging. A good bulk of the 28,259 announced attendance then gave “Capt. Kirk” a strong hand and some, a standing O in appreciation.

Nieuwenhuis finished the day batting .143. It isn’t often you raise your batting average over fifty points in one day in July, adding to the young outfielder’s personal highlight. After being released twice in the same season, first by the Mets in May when he was designated for assignment and subsequently traded to the Angels for “cash considerations” (What’s that? Cab fare and lunch at Disneyland?), and then by the Angels just weeks later (the Mets re-claimed him off waivers on June 13 and sent him to Las Vegas), Nieuwenhuis, 27, is hoping he has found a more permanent residence back in New York for the second “half” of the season.

“It’s been a wild ride, for sure,” Nieuwenhuis admitted after the game. “Today was a lot of fun, but it’s definitely been a journey. It’s a little bit surreal, but I think aftet the last month, I’m used to surreal now. It was big for me and big for the team going into the break. I’m looking forward to the second half.”

Nieuwenhuis enjoyed a good spring training, batting .322 in 24 games (19-59), with five doubles and five RBIs, but didn’t even have any home runs in the pre-season. He did hit seven home runs for Las Vegas, so maybe he’s finally found a groove.

Mets manager Terry Collins empathized with Nieuwenhuis’ lack of playing times at times.

“This means a lot to Kirk. Look what this guy has done in the minor leagues, and he comes up and doesn’t get a chance to play a lot. I’ve got to try and give everybody playing time.”

All of the other eight Mets to go deep three times in one game did so in a win, except one…Jose Reyes’ efforts in a game in Philadelphia on Aug. 15, 2006 went for naught. The Phillies, behind Randy Wolf (who gave up two of the trio to Reyes), and later, Brian Sanches, won, 11-4.

Several of the occasions when a Met hit three big ones on the same day involved memorable circumstances.

The first Met to accomplish the feat was Jim Hickman on Sept. 3, 1965 in St. Louis. He established the mark against just one pitcher, all three off future-Met Ray Sadecki. The Mets won, 6-3.

The second Met to do so, Dave Kingman, unintentionally inspired an audio tape which is well-known to baseball scribes, arguably infamously.

Set the Way-Back Machine to June 4, 1976. The location: Dodger Stadium. After Kingman hit three home runs against the Dodgers in a 11-0 wipeout (Tom Seaver earned the shutout), a reporter asked Dodger skipper Tommy Lasorda a loaded question in the daily postgame manager’s meeting in the clubhouse:

“So what did you think of Kingman’s performance?”

Lasorda’s response, beginning with a plain, “What did I think of Kingman’s performance?…” triggered a two or three minute expletive-heavy reply that might still be found in some audio collections, maybe even on YouTube, or someplace like that. It’s legendary.

Later, Kingman became the only ex-Met to turn the tide and wreak the same havoc against the Mets. See below.

Another memorable Met moment that included a three-home run “performance” highlighted Aug. 30, 1999 against Houston. Edgardo Alfonzo, on his way to setting a team mark of going 6 for 6 in a 17-1 shellacking of the Astros, Fonzie banged out three home runs – against three different Astros pitchers, Brian Williams, Sean Bergman, and Shane Reynolds.

Other Mets in the Three-Home Run Club include: Claudell Washington (also against the Dodgers, June 22, 1980, Mets won, 9-6…wonder what Lasorda thought about this game?); Darryl Strawberry (Aug. 5, 1985, at Chicago, Mets won, 7-2); Gary Carter (Sept. 3, 1985, at San Diego, Mets won, 8-3); and Carlos Beltran (May 12, 2011, at Colorado, Mets won, 9-5).

Coincidentally, Nieuwenhuis became the fifth player in the majors to hit three home runs in one game this season, joining a club that includes Detroit’s J.D. Martinez (June 21), Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (June 9), Washington’s Bryce Harper (May 6), and the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez (April 8).

And in case you were wondering, a dozen opponents have hit three home runs in a game against the Mets, only four times on the Mets’ home field:

Stan Musial (St. Louis), July 8, 1962, at Polo Grounds
Willie McCovey (San Francisco), Sept. 22, 1963, at San Francisco
Willie McCovey (San Francisco, Sept. 17, 1966, at San Francisco
Adolfo Phillips (Chicago), June 11, 1967, at Chicago
Billy Williams (Chicago), Sept. 10, 1968, at Chicago
Richie Allen (Philadelphia), Sept. 29, 1968, at Shea Stadium
Pete Rose (Cincinnati), April 29, 1978, at Shea Stadium
Dave Kingman (Chicago), July 29, 1979, at Chicago
Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes (Chicago), April 4, 1994, at Chicago
Bobby Higginson (Detroit), June 30, 1997, at Detroit
Luis Gonzalez (Arizona), May 10, 2004, at Arizona
Cody Ross (Florida), Sept. 11, 2006, at Florida

Highlights all for those concerned, and if Nieuwenhuis ever tops his momentous occasion for some future chronicler, Mets fans hope it results in another happy recap like this one.

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