Sustained excellence (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday April 25, 2007 1:05PM; Updated: Wednesday April 25, 2007 6:56PM
This, of course, was way before Griffey fell into the injury-prone ways of his later career in Cincinnati. In '97, as the Mariners' starting center fielder, he played in 157 games and crushed 56 home runs with 147 RBIs, the first of two straight years with 56 homers.
The big first baseman's month was notable as a whole, and his season was, too, but it was one week -- May 12 through 18 -- that set Hondo apart. During that six-game stretch, Howard -- 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds -- punched out 10 homers, a Major League record. That included two-homer games against Boston, Cleveland and Detroit (twice). He had 17 RBIs that week, too.
The start helped him earn his first trip to the All-Star game. He cooled as the summer dragged on, finishing with 44 homers and 106 RBIs, with just a .274 average and 141 strikeouts, third in the AL.
He was moody and mean and, at the zenith of his 12-year career, one of the most feared hitters in baseball. As the game celebrated Sosa and McGwire and their chase of Maris in the summer of '98, Belle was doing his thing in relative anonymity. What a thing it was.
That year, Belle set a record for the month of July with 16 homers; Sosa had just nine that month and McGwire only eight. Belle's 1.396 OPS that July remains one of the highest for any month, for anybody. He finished '98 with 49 homers and 152 RBIs.
In '97, splitting time between the A's and his new team, the Cards, Big Mac had a career-best 58 home runs, including 15 in the last month, a harbinger if ever there was one. He cranked out 11 in his first month of '98 and, in May, exploded with 16 homers, then a record for that month.
It seemed that just about everything McGwire connected with that season went out of the park. He ended up crushing Maris' single-season mark for home runs, hitting 70 of them, accounting for about 46 percent of his hits that season. His 16 May homers were 57 percent of his hits that month
Coming off the first MVP season of an already stellar career, Pujols began '06 by slugging the most homers in April ever, with 14. Teams were so scared of the Cards' first baseman that they walked him 28 times -- six intentionally -- which resulted in a robust .509 on-base percentage.
Pujols lost the MVP that year to Ryan Howard -- the Philly first baseman had 58 home runs -- but the Cardinals' star still was MVP-like, with a .331 average, 49 homers and 137 RBIs for the eventual World Series champions.
A-Rod is swinging so easily now, so effortlessly, that we're amazed when he doesn't get a hit, which was the case Tuesday. His 0-fer against the Devil Rays snapped a 23-game hitting streak that dated to last season. He's hitting a home run every 5.6 at-bats, and he already has two walkoffs this season -- one against the Orioles, one against the Indians.
With five games left in the month -- all in Yankee Stadium, two against the Blue Jays and three against the Red Sox -- A-Rod has a chance to finish with maybe the best month in baseball history. (His 14 homers tie Pujols for the most ever in April.) Where the two-time MVP goes from there, what he does with the rest of the year, is anyone's guess. Stuck in the middle of the Yankees' potent lineup, though, his numbers promise to be huge.
You could argue that, in perhaps the most impressive season ever for a hitter, May was not even Bonds' best month. In the final 27 games of a season that spilled into October because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bonds hit .403 with 16 home runs and a 1.685 OPS.
Still, May was more significant because Bonds -- who had hit a career-best 49 homers the season before -- made his intentions known immediately. His 17 home runs stand as a record for the month, and they pushed his total to 28 before June, one more than McGwire had at that point in '98. Bonds clearly had his goals set, early in the season, on McGwire's single-season home run record.
Even with pitchers avoiding him at an historic pace -- he walked a then-record 177 times that year -- Bonds finished with a .328 average, a 1.378 OPS and the home run record, with 73.