Jun. 18, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Aaron Hill (2) is congratulated by manager Kirk Gibson after hitting a solo home run against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE
Last night, Aaron Hill became the 294th player in major-league history to hit for the cycle, which means getting a single, double, triple and home-run in the same game. It's a pretty rare achievement, comparable in frequency to getting a no-hitter for pitchers (which has happened 277 times). Curiously, the Padres have never had either: but have been on the receiving end of six cycles and seven no-hitters. Let's all pause to laugh at San Diego.
Thank you. After the jump, we'll take a look at the cycles hit by the Diamondbacks, and discuss this quirky little feat of baseball play.
Luis Gonzalez: July 5, 2000 vs. Astros
Double (1st), Single (3rd), Triple (8th), Home-run (9th)
This was a late breaking cycle, as we came to the top of the eighth inning with Gonzo only half-way there. Even after he tripled to lead off that frame. it was far from certain that he'd get another chance to bat, but Steve Finley and Craig Counsell walked, and Damian Miller singles. When Danny Klassen K'd for the second out - removing the chance of the double-play - it guaranteed Luis the chance, and it came against Doug Henry with two out. The first pitch Gonzalez saw in the at-bat, was dispatched in to the right-field bleachers, and the Diamondbacks had their first cycle in the books.
Greg Colbrunn: September 19, 2002 vs. Padres
Single (1st), Home-run (4th), Double (6th), Home-run (7th), Triple (9th).
This one is an even rarer multi-homer cycle: the only one in the majors since George Brett in 1979 - and that was in a 16-inning game. You've got to go all the way back to Ralph Kiner in 1950 for the last multi-homer cycle during a regulation game. Not exactly a speedster - Greg had fewer triples than years in the majors - his came on a high fly to the right-field corner which just dropped past the outfielder; manager Bob Brenly joked, "I don't think Colby would have stopped if we had put a barricade at second base." Said the hitter, "I'm not going to kid you, I enjoyed it. I'll take the memory for what it is, just a memory of the game and look back on the season and remember what I did."
Stephen Drew: September 1, 2008 vs. Cardinals
Single (1st), Triple (3rd), Home-run (5th), Double (7th), Double (8th).
Drew is probably the only you'd vote for, as "Diamondback most likely to hit for the cycle", because of his combination of speed and power. As we'll see, the three-bagger is the hardest part: four times, Drew has had as many triples in a season as Colbrunn had in his entire career. This was another "cycle plus," with Stephen getting it done by the seventh, then adding another hit in the eighth. There have been a lot fewer of those: only 49 since 1918. Curiously, two of them took place simultaneously, Adrian Beltre also having a "cycle plus" on the same day Drew did it - only the second time in baseball history two cycles have shared the spotlight.
Kelly Johnson: July 23, 2010 vs. Giants
Home-run (1st), Double (5th), Triple (6th), Single (8th).
Another rarity here, with Johnson hitting for the cycle in a game his team lost: the rest of the Diamondbacks line-up could only add one to his three RBI, going down to the Giants 4-7. The last time a team scored only four runs when someone hit for the cycle was May 1993 - some guy called Mark Grace did it for the Cubs that day. Wonder what happened to him? :) You could have a cycle in a game where your team scores just one run, off your homer, but I haven't found any cases where that happened; the closest was Jim King's for Washington in 1964, where his team lost to Boston, 2-3.
Aaron Hill: June 18, 2012 vs. Mariners
Single (1st), Triple (3rd), Double (5th), Home-run (7th).
Hill came close little more than a week ago, falling a double short of the cycle in Colorado on June 5th; he'd missed the same part last year too, on August 28th vs. San Diego. This one was remarkable for its efficiency, Hill hitting for the cycle in the minimum four plate-appearances. The last NL player to do that was Vlad Guerrero for the Expos in 2003. Said Hill, "I don't think I've ever tried to hit a homer before. You just take a deep breath and try and do what you did the previous at-bats. I was feeling good at the plate. It's just one of those things where you look to see the ball up and you look for something to drive." Mission accomplished.
We should certainly include Conor Jackson as an honorary member of the "Arizona cycle club". On April 18th, 2008 against the Padres, he tripled in the first, homered in the second and singled in the fourth. Then, in the sixth, with his team up 7-0, he drove a pitch from Greg Maddux over the head of the center-fielder. No-one would have blamed Jackson for pulling up with a stand-up double and the cycle, but he continued on for another triple. He said, "Yeah, I thought about it. I'm not going to lie -- of course it crossed my mind. But having one out and a runner on third is pretty appealing." It was awarded Performance of the Year in the 2008 SnakePit Awards - ahead of Drew's cycle!
I was going to try and work out the odds of a player hitting for the cycle, but the Hardball Times got there first. They used 2009 offensive levels, and figured that, while it depends significantly on your place in the batting order, with an average MLB player going against an average team, the change of a cycle is approximately 0.00590%. This works out to about 2.5 cycles in a 162-game season. However, the actual number has been higher than that: over the past decade (2002-2011), there were 42 rather than 25. This may reflect players, consciously or otherwise, deliberately trying to get the fourth part once they have the first three, much as Hill did last night.
It was Arizona's fifth cycle; as well as extending their lead over the Padres, it's also more than have been recorded by the Mariners (4), Blue Jays (2), Rays (1) and Marlins (0). Obviously, those are all recent teams, but we've now equaled the cycle count of the White Sox, who had a 97-year head-start on the D-backs. However, we've never had a 'natural cycle', where the hits go in order from single to home-run - Hill needed to swap his double and triple around. Those are much rarer, with only 13 recorded in baseball history, Gary Matthews Jr. being the last to date, in 2006.
- Three players have had three cycles in their career, the most recent Babe Herman in 1931-33. No active player has more than one, the last to hit a second being Brad Wilkerson in 2005.
- Five players have completed the cycle with a walk-off home-run, and eight have had a grand-slam as part of the feat - among the latter is current Diamondback Jason Kubel, who cycled as a Twin on April 17, 2009.
- Other past/future D-backs who had their cycles while not with the team include Mark Grace, Damion Easley, Eric Byrnes, Chad Moeller, Jeff DaVanon, Orlando Hudson and Scott Hairston.
- In Japan, Atsunori Inaba of the Yakult Swallows became the only man to hit for the cycle in a rain-shortened game. On July 1, 2003, he hit a triple in the first and a home run in the fourth, then got the other two necessary hits in the fifth inning after the Swallows batted around. The game was called after the sixth.