Guerrero Joins Rare Club With Five Straight Home Runs

Cristian Guerrero has reached Triple-A. He’s part of one of the most famous baseball families of this generation (cousins Vladimir Guerrero and Wilton Guerrero are both big leaguers), and he could defy odds make it back to affilliated ball and make it to the big leagues himself.

But even if all that happens, he’ll never have a day like he had on June 9.

The Gary RailCats (Northern) right fielder finished the first game of a doubleheader with Rockford by hitting a pair of home runs in his final two at-bats. It was an impressive game, especially for a Gary team that had only five home runs as a team heading into the game.

But it’s what he did in the nightcap that made history. Guerrero hit the first pitch he saw in his first at-bat of the second game for his third consecutive home run. The next time up, he again hit the first pitch out. And he followed it up by going five home runs for five at-bats by hitting the first pitch he saw out.

Guerrero almost added one more home run to his total—in his final at-bat in the second game he hit a sacrifice fly that died at the wall in right center field.

Admittedly minor league records are sketchy enough that you can never confidently say any feat is unprecedented, but it’s safe to say that Guerrero is one of the few players ever to hit five straight home runs. The record, at best as anyone can tell, for home runs in a game is Jay Clark’s eight home runs for Corsicana (Texas) in a 51-3 win over Texarkana in 1902. Four players have hit five home runs in a game, although only Lou Frierson (1934 in the West Dixie League) did it in consecutive at-bats.

Gary manager Greg Tagert said that because the home runs came in back-to-back games, the drama didn’t really reach a crescendo until he was vying for the fourth home run.

“When he stepped in the box after the third one, maybe because of the way it was happening—like a no-hitter where you don’t realize it’s happening for the first five or six innings—it was pretty (subdued),” Tagert said. “When he hit the fourth and came up for the fifth at-bat, guys were bursting at the seams.”

Considering the RailCats spacious home ballpark and the style of team that it necessitates, Guerrero, the team’s cleanup hitter, is really the team’s only significant home run threat. It’s a role he’s filled since coming to Gary in 2008 after one year in the Atlantic League. Guerrero was once ranked as high as the No. 5 prospect in the Brewers system (before an age discrepancy found he was nine months older than originally believed), and he’s still got the lithe, athletic 6-foot-5 frame that once made him a top prospect.

“We’ve never had a player with that dimension that Cristian has brought us,” Tagert said. “He puts on a nice show in batting practice. He can be a game-changer with one swing of the bat.”

Guerrero set the team single-season home run record when he hit 16 home runs in 2008 as part of a .312/.385/.516 season. He had hopes that it would get him back to affiliated ball, but a torn hamstring ruined the start of his 2009 season and he slumped to .227/.313/.418. Guerrero is hopeful that a strong start to 2010 and his five home run feat will get him noticed.

“You never know what’s going to happen. All I can do is keep working hard,” he said.

Along the way, Guerrero doesn’t have to worry about his bats—his cousin Vladimir sends him a shipment of major league quality bats every few weeks.

Bouncing Back

The Kansas City T-Bones (Northern) lost their closer when Justin James’ contract was purchased by the Oakland A’s, but they could be happy knowing they had helped one of the better indy league reclamation projects of the year.

James, a fifth-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2003, was traded to the Reds for Buck Coats in 2007, then let go by the Reds before the 2009 season. The T-Bones signed him that year, but he was clearly not fully healthy, as his velocity and command was lacking (he went 4-6, 5.73 in 88 innings).

This year the T-Bones installed James as their closer after finding that his stuff had bounced back to the way it was when he was considered a solid prospect in the Blue Jays system.

“Last year he was coming off arm issue and clearly wasn’t quite the same guy,” Gary manager Greg Tagert said. “This year, the first night we saw him at our place he was 94-95 mph and touching 96. We use a old Stalker, this isn’t a stadium gun. It was the fastest pitches we’ve seen on our Stalker in six years. And he has a filthy slider. He looks no different  than the guys you see in the seventh and eighth innings of big league games.”

James was 0-0, 1.69 with six saves in 10 innings with Kansas City before the A’s snapped him up.