Babe Ruth. Reggie Jackson. George Brett. Hall of Famers, every one of them.
They all do. Until Tuesday afternoon, those five men were the only players in major-league history to hit three home runs in a postseason game. The Babe did it twice, in the 1926 and 1928 World Series.
Tuesday, Adrian Beltre became the sixth, hitting three solo home runs, becoming the first player to homer three times in a Division Series game and almost singlehandedly leading the Texas Rangers to the American League Championship Series. ("Almost" because he had a bit of home-run help: Ian Kinsler led off the game with a solo shot. But the rest of the Rangers' scoring was all Beltre.)
- In the second inning, Beltre crushed one of Jeremy Hellickson's 90-mile-an-hour fastballs, well over the fence in left.
- In the fourth inning, drove another of Hellickson's "fastballs" out, this time over the right-field wall.
- And in the seventh, with rookie Matt Moore on the mound, Beltre deposited a 93-m.p.h. fastball beyond the wall in left field, again.
Pro Tip: Don't throw fastballs to Adrian Beltre. Not unless you can throw them faster, anyway.
So now it's six players, in all of history, who have hit three homers in one postseason games. If you rank those players by career Wins Above Replacement, the list reads:
- Ruth (172)
- Brett (85)
- Jackson (74.6)
- Beltre (47.7)
- Kennedy (19.6)
- Robertson (9.5)
If you rank them by career regular-season home runs:
- Ruth (714)
- Jackson (563)
- Brett (317)
- Beltre (310)
- Robertson (115)
- Kennedy (78)
Beltre is a very good player who had one monster season (2004, with the Dodgers) that got him his first big free-agent deal: a five-year, $64 million contract with the Mariners. He was somewhat of a disappointment there, had one year ruined by injury, and left to become (so far) an itinerant, with one All-Star year with the Red Sox and another this season with the Rangers. With 310 career home runs and 2,033 hits at age 32, he ranks favorably with several Hall of Famers at that age: Cal Ripken, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson and Orlando Cepeda all have similarity scores with Beltre of 833 or higher.
With a few more seasons like the ones he had in 2010 and 2011, Beltre could rate Hall of Fame consideration, as Rob Neyer wrote in the article linked above. In the meantime, he has put himself in rare company. It's worth remembering Bob Robertson at this time; he was, at the time he hit three home runs in Game 2 of the 1971 NLCS, a 24-year-old player coming off seasons of 27 and 26 home runs. He seemed headed for a perennial All-Star career; chronic back problems put him out of the majors at 32. He never again hit even 20 homers in a season.
And then there's Adam Kennedy. Some things just defy explanation.