Reflecting on the time when Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra celebrated his birthday by hitting three home runs.
We all enjoy an annual birthday bash in our honor, right? Nomar Garciaparra apparently favored bashing home runs. At least that was the case on his 29th birthday when the former Boston Red Sox shortstop hit three homers in a 22-4 route of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
On July 23, 2002, the Red Sox hosted the Rays for the opener of a day-night doubleheader after the previous day’s game had been washed out by rain. It seemed as though Boston was in for a long day when they fell behind 4-0 in the second inning. We were on the verge of throwing in the towel with seven more innings to go plus an entire new game to follow that night.
Then the third inning happened. The Red Sox exploded for 10 runs in the frame to take a commanding lead fueled by the power of Garciaparra.
The birthday boy stepped to the plate with nobody out in the third. Johnny Damon had led off the frame with a solo homer and Lou Merloni followed with a base hit. Nomar got the green light on a 3-0 count and drilled a fastball on the outer half of the plate from Tanyon Sturtze deep to left-center field that cleared the towering wall for a two-run homer.
Manny Ramirez hit a solo shot to give the Red Sox back-to-back homers that tied the game. Boston’s bats strung together three more runs before Garciaparra’s turn came up again with a runner on base and two outs.
On the first pitch he saw from reliever Brandon Backe, Nomar took a similar fastball hip-high and outside and deposited it in nearly the same spot over the Green Monster. The two-run homer extended the lead to 10-4 with all of Boston’s runs crossing the plate in the third, capped by Nomar’s second homer of the inning.
That made Garciaparra the third Red Sox hitter in franchise history to hit multiple home runs in the same inning and the first since Ellis Burks in 1990. David Ortiz is the only Red Sox hitter who has done it since (2008).
After driving in four runs in his previous two plate appearances, Nomar added four more with a grand slam to complete his three-homer day. This one came on a hanging breaking ball over the middle. Garciaparra pulled it to left where it cleared the wall near the Coca-Cola bottles to extend the lead to 16-4 and chase Backe from the game.
His third home run of the game gave him 16 for the season to that point. It was also the fourth grand slam of his career.
The capacity crowd at Fenway Park gave Nomar a well deserved standing ovation and the star shortstop obliged by stepping out of the dugout for a curtain call.
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Garciaparra finished the day going 3-for-5 with three homers, eight RBI and a walk. He had entered the day batting an even .300 and raised his average to .304 with the three-hit performance. He would not dip below .300 for the remainder of the season and finished the year with a .310 average.
Nomar had homered twice in Boston’s previous game, a crushing 9-8 defeat against the Yankees in the Bronx. That gave him five home runs over the course of two games. He would finish the year with 24, his highest total since 1999.
2002 was an encouraging year for Garciaparra after a wrist injury limited him to 21 games the previous season. Various injuries would unfortunately derail the second half of his career. He would never again reach the lofty batting averages from the consecutive batting titles he won in 1999 and 2000 or showcase the power he possessed early in his career. The 2002 season proved his star hadn’t faded yet and this three-home run game was a shining example of the threat he still provided at the plate.
The Red Sox finished that season with a respectable 93 wins but trailed the division-champion Yankees by 10 wins and they were six games out of the Wild Card spot. It wasn’t a particularly memorable season but Nomar ensured that his birthday that year would be one we’d never forget.