“We were part of history. You can’t believe it after it keeps happening — second, third and finally the fourth time. It was amazing. J.D. works as hard as anybody at his swing, perfecting his craft, and he deserves that moment.”
— Torey Lovullo
We talk about no-hitters, cycles and perfect game as rare events. But even less frequent is the miracle of the game where a player hits four home-runs in a game. There have been only eighteen of them in the entire history of major-league baseball. Multiple franchises which have existed for over a century have never seen one. The Cubs, the longest-running franchise in a single city, have played 144 seasons and have never had one. Neither have the Pirates over their 138 seasons. Even in the more recent and homer-happy days, they remain extraordinarily rare. In the 2010’s, there were about 413,100 starts for non-position players, but just three home-run games.
“It’s pretty impressive to see a guy go out there and take four really good at-bats and hit four really long balls. I thought there was no way they were going to throw him something he could hit. But sure enough he got a ball right where he wanted it and he put it in the seats.”
— Robbie Ray
Martinez had been acquired by Mike Hazen at the deadline to give the offense some pop, and had delivered, become arguably the best mid-season pick-up in franchise history. He went into that game in Dodger Stadium having already hit 14 home-runs in just 158 plate-appearances for Arizona since being traded from Detroit in mid-July. Though he wasn’t actually the first mid-season tradee to have such a game. Pat Seerey was dealt from the Indians to the White Sox in June 1948, and the following month hit four home-runs against the Phillies. But his new team weren’t in the pressure of a playoff race: Chicago had the worst record in the American League, finishing 51-101.
“I don’t know how to explain it. It’s one of those things where you work real hard and find that perfect swing and find one of those days where everything just kind of lines up. Today, I felt like, was one of those days. I was seeing the ball well, and when I was swinging I was hitting them.”
— J.D. Martinez
Rather overshadowed by Martinez’s performance at the plate was Robbie Ray’s almost equal dominance on the mound: he tossed 7.2 innings of three-hit shutout ball, striking out 14 Dodgers. J.J. Hoover and Silvino Bracho then completed the shutout, meaning it was the first ever four-homer performance where the player had more home-runs than the opposition managed hits in the game. JD’s setting of a franchise record was made all the more remarkable by the late aspect of it. After striking out first time up, through six innings, he had hit just one homer, but then unleashed the beast, homering in the seventh, eighth and ninth frames, to become the third man to perform the feat off four different pitchers.
“As it was going on they were so pumped up. If you guys would have been in here before, you would have been dying laughing. They were just going nuts. I’ve been saying since I got here, these guys are great. They make me feel at home here. They helped me through my struggles. They welcomed me with open arms. Guys here have been awesome.”
— J.D. Martinez
He had teetered on the brink of the record before. On June 21, 2015 against the Yankees in New York, Martinez had homered in the first, fifth and sixth innings, and came up in the eighth with a chance to make history. However, he flew out, and was left in the hole when the game ended. He said, “In my last at-bat, I started thinking about it and that’s when it didn’t happen.” Some previous Diamondbacks had also been given a shot at glory, most recently Jason Kubel against the Astros on July 21, 2012. He went deep in the first, fourth and sixth innings - it was almost like he knew what was coming! - before striking out in the eighth. But Martinez did not flinch this time.
“This at-bat, I came up and I was like, just go up here and try to have a good at-bat. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing all day. You know what, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. It’s going to happen. There’s no point in trying to force it. Just go up there and have a good at-bat.”
— J.D. Martinez
Various other fun facts deserve repeating: J.D. was brought in to help us against left-handed pitching. However, 14 of his 18 homers have been off righties. And for all the talk of the Chase Field effect, 11 of them had come on the road. Martinez had more home-runs in one night than five major-league teams had managed to that point in September, including both Colorado and his former team in Detroit (1 each). And it was only part of a remarkable surge which helped to take Arizona into the post-season. From September 1 on. Martinez hit a total of sixteen home-runs, in only 101 at-bats: no previous D-back had even reached double digits over the last month of the season.
“I’m watching his swing and I’m thinking if this is a strike I think this is a homer. It’s obviously the most impressive thing I’ve ever been a part of. It was awesome.”
— A.J. Pollock
All told, he had a line for the month of .396/.431/.950, giving J.D. an OPS of 1.382. That’s almost 200 points more than the next-best Sep/Oct split by an Arizona hitter (min 50 PA), the runner-up being Ketel Marte’s 1.183 OPS last season. Indeed, it was the highest OPS for any calendar month in Diamondbacks history. It even managed to beat Luis Gonzalez’s 1.350 from June 2001, when he hit .417 with a dozen homers, and more walks than strikeouts. But the pinnacle performance of that pinnacle month came on that night in Los Angeles, and was something no-one who ever saw will forget. It’s quite likely something we may not see again in our lifetime from any Arizona hitter.