The ballpark now known as U.S. Cellular Field has seen some real special baseball history over its relatively short time as the home of the Chicago White Sox. The 2005 World Series championship and Mark Buehrle's perfecto immediately come to mind for most White Sox fans. But the rarest baseball event to take place at The Cell took place before any of those remarkable achievements. And its 10-year anniversary is right around the corner.
On Thursday, May 2, 2002, the White Sox took on the Mariners at the new Comiskey Park (as a lot of people still referred to it back then). According to Baseball-Reference.com, 12,891 people were there. But it was an especially cold and disgusting night, and there were far less than that number in attendance by midway through the game (being conservative: not more than 7,000 or so by the end).
My friend Phil and I were among them; we started the game in seats down the left-field line, close to where the Sox had recently done construction, moving the seats closer in toward fair territory. James Baldwin, the former White Sox pitcher, was on the bump for the Mariners. The Sox started the young and promisingly large Jon Rauch. What happened in the top of the first was a unique occurrence in Major League Baseball history.
Rauch started off the first by hitting Ichiro Suzuki, then promptly gave up a home run to Bret Boone. Mike Cameron, the former White Sox center fielder still smarting over getting traded for the slowest man pound-for-pound in baseball, Paul Konerko, came up for his first at-bat. Before you could say "25-game suspension," Cameron had jacked his own homer to deep center.
Fast forward through names like Olerud, Carlos Guillen, McLemore, Ruben Sierra, Jeff Cirillo and even stinky old Ben Davis (could he have sensed then that an unimpressive stint with the White Sox was in his future?) to the point when it's 5-0 and Rauch had managed to record just a single out in this inauspicious start (could he have sensed then that he would become an unremarkable but somewhat effective reliever?). Jerry Manuel, master of the timely pitching change, replaced Rauch with the embodiment of a known quantity: Jim "It's not butter" Parque.
Jimmy got Ichiro on a run-scoring ground out and things were looking up for the White Sox; they now had 100% more outs than before the pitching change! But Boone hit another homer, becoming the 14th player in American League history to hit two HRs in one inning.
With a skinny, junk-balling scrub like Parque on the hill, everyone knew that anything could happen. And then it did. Cameron, known for bending iron railroad spikes in the offseason to build his sinewy muscle mass, cranked out a second homer in his second at-bat. At this moment, according to John Ralph of MLB.com, "Cameron and Bret Boone made Major League history by becoming the first pair of teammates to hit two home runs apiece in the same inning, and for good measure both sets of roundtrippers were back-to-back. Boone and Cameron are also the 14th and 15th players in AL history to have hit two homers in one inning."
It is the only time in MLB history that two teammates hit two HRs each in the same inning. It is the only time in MLB history that two teammates went back-to-back twice in the same inning. It is the only time in MLB history that two teammates went back-to-back twice in the first inning. BUT WAIT! There's more . . .
In the top of the third with nobody on and two out, Cameron came to the plate again with the score sitting at a cool 10-0 and Parque still putting the garbage in "garbage time." Mike, feeling extra juicy, sent another one into the seats. After three innings he was 3-for-3 with three HRs. While some attendees, ostensibly disappointed that Boone hadn't held up his end of the bargain, gave up hope after the third, others who weren't as ignorant stayed, knowing that Cameron would probably have another three chances to get HR number four on the night and gain a more conventional version of baseball immortality.
Some ugly ballgame and a Carlos Lee HR later, the score was 12-1 for the top of the fifth with the Mariners' 1-2-3 hitters due up. Parque continued his dominance of Ichiro by coaxing another ground out. He struck out Boone next, and then came his date with destiny. Cameron, truly "stuck on automatic," belted yet another HR, his record-tying fourth of the night in his fourth at-bat. He'd become the 13th hitter in MLB history to hit four HRs in a single game; a feat rarer than a Perfect Game. Not only was there remarkable shock value in Cameron's achievement, but also in how early in the game it was achieved; it seemed reasonable to think he'd get two shots at No. 5!
Sometime after that, Phil and I made our way to the empty seats behind home plate on that frigid night and prepared to settle in for a chance to witness even more history and heckle in an atmosphere wherein the players would almost certainly hear us clearly. (Phil reminds me that the players weren't the only recipients of jeers at this slopfest. At a particularly quiet moment, somebody yelled an extra loud "Hey batboy, YOU SUCK!")
In the top of the seventh, Manuel brought in Mike Porzio with the clear intent of not allowing a record fifth homer: he plunked Cameron, almost certainly on manager's orders (Manuel may or may not have said after the game that he told Porzio before facing Cameron, in his best Captain Picard voice, "The line must be drawn here!").
Everybody was disappointed that we'd all been robbed of the chance at history by Manuel's foolish pride. But when Cameron came up in the wind-blown ninth, Porzio gave him a good pitch to hit and Mike drove the ball all the way to the wall in right field for a dramatic but unsuccessful conclusion to his unlikely bid to be the lone member of the 5HR-game club.
If there is a lesson to this story, it might be that you should always move to better seats if you have a real shot at staying there for the remainder of the game. Or it might be that extremely unlikely occurrences do actually occur. So let's remember the extremely unlikely night at the ballpark 10 years ago when Mike Cameron had a game for the ages, and Boone and Cameron accomplished a baseball feat that had never happened before and hasn't happened since.