Baseball history is littered with players who couldn't hit home runs. Decent players, some of them, players who lasted a long time. Irv Hall never hit a single home run. Tom Oliver never hit a single home run. Eddie Foster, Luis Gomez and Mick Kelleher never hit a single home run. Focusing on the more contemporary, Reggie Willits has yet to hit a home run over 414 games.
In their youth, all of these players would've been described as having power upside. The potential to hit a few balls out of the park down the road. In time, it would become clear that said upside didn't exist. Teams would then give up on the players, or continue to make use of them, because they're good at other things. Things like defense, or running, or getting on base.
Ben Revere is such a player. The Twins selected the speedy outfielder 28th overall in the 2007 draft, and though some people liked to talk about Revere's raw power potential, it has yet to show up. As one might expect from a player listed at five-foot-nine. Revere hit zero home runs in the minors in 2007. He hit one in the minors in 2008. He hit two in the minors in 2009, and one in the minors in 2010, and one in the minors in 2011. That's five home runs, over more than 1600 trips to the plate.
And zero home runs over more than 300 major league trips to the plate. Revere debuted with the Twins last September. In 2011, he's been a borderline regular. He's played good defense. He's stolen a lot of bases. But he hasn't shown the ability to hit for power, at all. At 69.5 percent, he has the highest ground-ball rate in baseball. Ground balls go for singles. They seldom go for doubles and they sure as hell don't go for homers.
Ben Revere is presently a player at the highest level of baseball in the world, which is exciting, but every night that he's gone to bed, he might've wondered whether he'd ever hit a major league home run. Just one, to give him the feeling of hitting one. Every starter wants a win. Every reliever wants a save. Every hitter wants at least one home run.
This all brings us to Monday night. Monday night's game between the Twins and the Tigers in Comerica Park will be most remembered for Jim Thome's pair of home runs, which gained him entry into baseball's 600 home run club. The scene at home plate following Thome's second knock was among the more heartwarming of the season
But sandwiched in between Thome's two homers was a sixth-inning Ben Revere at-bat against Rick Porcello. If Thome's 600th home run was a great American fairy tale, then Revere's at-bat in the sixth was a great American tragedy.
It began innocently enough. Batting with two outs and a man on third, Revere worked a 2-and-1 count. Porcello threw an offspeed pitch low in the zone, and Revere hit it hard, well over the second baseman's head.
But this wasn't any ordinary line drive. This was a line drive into the gap. This was a line drive to the deepest corner of Comerica's spacious outfield. For Jack Cust, that's an easy two bases. For Chase Utley, that's an easy three bases. For Ben Revere, it had a chance to be four.
Revere may not be strong, but he has footspeed for days. He is, after all, the same guy who slid in safely for a triple despite falling down on the basepaths. He runs as well as anybody in the game, and so as soon as this ball left the bat, he must've been thinking one thing. That's it. That's my home run. An inside-the-park home run, sure. But they all count the same.
And so off he went, sprinting in an approximate circle. Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson is fast, sure, but Revere is faster, and Jackson doesn't throw so well. While this wasn't a guarantee, it was close, and close enough to try.
That's Revere approaching second base at full speed before Jackson has reached the ball. By the time Jackson had retrieved the ball and thrown it to the cutoff man, Revere was well around second and nearly to third. Not slowing down, Revere had one goal in mind as he rounded again, and he knew it would take a nearly perfect relay between Jackson, Ryan Raburn and Alex Avila to gun him down. The math was on his side.
Revere was closing in. I don't like the expression "so close he can taste it" - inside-the-park home runs probably taste like dirt. But Ben Revere and Raburn's throw seemed to approach home plate at about the same speed. This was going to be a photo finish. Revere still had a chance, but Jackson and Raburn had turned a better relay than he anticipated.
It took a nearly perfect play, and a nearly perfect play was made. Jackson got to the ball back in a hurry, and got it back in a hurry. Raburn threw home in a hurry, if slightly off-line. Avila received a long hop and held on to the ball through a collision. Revere lay face down on the ground. Revere had hit his fourth career triple. He had not hit his first career home run. He had come close, the closest he's ever been, but at that moment, as Avila picked up his mask, a home run surely never felt less possible.
The partisan game highlight descriptions ignored the angle. From Tigers.com, an appreciation of the relay:
And from Twins.com, an appreciation of the triple:
There's no mention of the home-run attempt anywhere. That information is conspicuously absent. It's as though "Ben Revere" and "home run" cannot exist in the same sentence.
Maybe someday they will. Maybe. Ben Revere, certainly, can't help but wonder.