May 17, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
The last time a Syracuse Chiefs batter blasted four home runs in one game was 34 years ago when Native American outfielder Gene Locklear did it on July 14, 1977 against the Columbus Clippers at Franklin County Stadium in Ohio.
Much to the delight of some 2,500 Syracuse baseball fans, however, Michael Aubrey swatted his four four-baggers right here at home at Alliance Bank Stadium, on Saturday, May 14, against the Durham Bulls.
After hitting 22 homers for Norfolk last year, the 29-year-old Aubrey was expected to bring some bang to the Chiefs’ lineup this season, but he entered Saturday’s game with a meager .203 batting average and not a single dinger in the first five weeks of the 2011 International League season.
“I’d been hitting balls hard but had no luck,” the Shreveport native explained after Saturday’s swatfest. “After I hit that first one today, that was a real confidence-booster.”
On Monday, Aubrey was named IL Batter of the Week.
He becomes just the tenth man in the 127-year history of the International League ever to hit four home runs in one game.
The Bulls had put Syracuse to shame on Friday the 13th, rallying against reliever Collin Balester to bury the home team 9-2 in the series opener. But on Saturday, with rain falling intermittently, the Chiefs turned the tables.
With drizzle dripping from his helmet, Aubrey – a 190-pound left-handed batter – stepped up to the plate in the first inning to face Durham right-hander Jeremy Hall. Syracuse’s Chris Marrero stood on second after hitting an RBI double to put the Chiefs ahead 1-0.
Hall threw Aubrey a changeup, and the designated hitter jumped on it, sending the ball deep into the gap in right-center.
“I really got the barrel on it,” Aubrey said. It carried 380 feet for a two-run homer.
Two innings later the 6-foot-3 hurler tried to sneak a fastball by him, but Aubrey pulled it. The line drive sailed over the wall about 30 feet inside the right-field foul pole.
Veteran reliever Chris Bootcheck replaced Hall as the Chiefs came to bat leading 4-0 in the fourth. It was a nightmare inning for right-hander Bootcheck, former bullpen mainstay of the California Angels. He walked a batter. He allowed a single. He balked. He walked another. He allowed two sacrifice flies, one compounded by an error in left field. Marrero popped out.
Then Aubrey took his place in the batter’s box.
Bootcheck put two strikes by him before the lefty fouled off a couple curves. Then Bootcheck flung a 90-mph heater which Aubrey smacked deep over the old-fashioned scoreboard in right-center for a three-run homer, his third jack of the day.
With the Chiefs ahead 9-0, Aubrey led off the bottom of the seventh against Ryan Reid, another right-winged reliever. Reid started him with a changeup, and then a fastball which Aubrey fouled off. Reid snapped off a couple sliders and the second one came in right over the plate.
“The moment I hit it,” Aubrey said, “I just thought, ‘Oh, man, I hope I got enough.”
He drove the breaking ball 385 feet for his fourth Ruthian round-tripper in as many at-bats. The run he scored was Aubrey’s seventh run-batted-in of the game. Two batters later, Chiefs third baseman Adam Fox took Reid deep to raise the score to 11-0.
Aubrey’s power surge overshadowed a magnificent pitching performance for the Chiefs by rookie right-hander Brad Meyers who hurled seven scoreless innings.
After the game in the Chiefs’ clubhouse, players considered dousing Aubrey with shaving cream, but instead when he walked into the locker room his teammates simply applauded, loudly and long.
“This was a career day for me,” said Aubrey, who previously played for the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles. “I sure didn’t expect to do it, but it was a fun day.”
Twice before in his pro career, Aubrey had hit two homers in one game. “But I could never get that third one,” he remembered.
Despite his four-homer feat and his 22 long balls last year, Aubrey insists, “I’m not a home-run hitter.” Instead, he said, “I try to get good at-bats and really drive the ball.”
Regardless, since Saturday the record books will forever identify Michael Aubrey with home runs.
Chiefs host Tides
The Syracuse Chiefs, the top farm club of the Washington Nationals, play the Norfolk Tides, Triple-A club for the Baltimore Orioles, at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May 19-20, at Alliance Bank Stadium. Field-level ticket prices range from $9 to $20, while upper-deck seats cost $8, and $4 for kids and seniors. Parking costs $5 per vehicle; 474-7833; syracusechiefs.com.