Chris Taylor helped the Los Angeles Dodgers stay alive in the National League Championship Series on Thursday night by belting three home runs. In the sport’s long history, three-homer games in the postseason stand out as a rarity: They have occurred only 12 times. While Taylor has had his share of postseason magic in the past, and he is a useful player, the fraternity he joined includes several all-time greats.
Try to guess who was the first player to hit three homers in a postseason. Did you guess Babe Ruth? You’re right. Guess who did it second. Yes, Ruth again.
The first time came with the Yankees in Game 4 of the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. One of the blasts reached the center field bleachers of Sportsman’s Park, which only two men had previously reached. His 12 total bases and four runs scored were also records at the time.
Two years later, again in a World Series Game 4 in St. Louis, he once more hit three, despite recording only three at-bats (he walked in his other two plate appearances). The game completed a sweep of the Cards, and caused The New York Times to gush on the front page that the Yanks were “establishing records that will live as long as the game itself.”
So far, that prediction is holding up. Ruth remains the only player to homer three times in a postseason game twice, and he did it when the postseason consisted of only one round per year.
No one matched Ruth until the 1970s, when the unheralded Bob Robertson hit three for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1971 N.L.C.S. He is the only person to add another extra base hit in the same game as his homers, a double. Robertson’s story was heightened because he had missed an entire season for kidney surgery; he was trumpeted as a “medical marvel.” Not enough star power for you? Willie Mays also hit a home run in the game for the San Francisco Giants at age 40.
Which brings us to the most famous three homer game: Reggie Jackson’s in the 1977 World Series. That clinching Game 6 went a long way toward establishing Jackson as “Mr. October” and gave him five homers in the series — a record. After a year of criticism from the typically demanding New York fans, Jackson said after the victory, “Perhaps for one night, I reached back and achieved that level of the overrated superstar.”
Another Hall of Famer, George Brett, completed the fertile decade with three solo homers in the 1978 A.L.C.S for the Kansas City Royals. Brett was the only leadoff man to do it. Too bad his teammates weren’t getting on base: The Royals were the only team to lose a three-homer game, 6-5, to the Yankees.
The Home Run Era
There were no postseason three homer games in the ’80s or ’90s and just one in the ’00s: Adam Kennedy for the Anaheim Angels in the 2002 A.L.C.S. (He somehow did it batting ninth.)
But a surge in home runs across the board, and an expansion of the playoffs, meant a golden age was about to begin. Through Kennedy, the feat had been performed six times. It has been done six more times since.
Adrian Beltre hit three solo shots for the Texas Rangers in the 2011 division series. That accounted for three of the four runs in a 4-3 victory that sent the Tampa Bay Rays home.
Just 18 days later, Albert Pujols hit three for the Cardinals in the World Series, becoming the only player to collect five hits in his three-homer game. His clouts were described by The Times as “gigantic.” His teammate Yadier Molina said: “He’s been doing this for 11 years, and you’re surprised? I’m not surprised.”
The next year, Pablo Sandoval hit three in the World Series for the Giants against the Detroit Tigers. “I still can’t believe it,” Sandoval said after the game. “When you’re a little kid, you dream about being in the World Series. But I wasn’t thinking about being in this situation, three homers in one game, you know?”
Jose Altuve had three for the Houston Astros in the 2017 division series. “I told him the last time I’ve seen three home runs in a game was Pablo Sandoval, and I gave up two of them, so I’m glad there’s somebody new that’s done it,” said the Astros starter Justin Verlander, formerly of Detroit. It is notable that those home runs came in Houston in the season in which the Astros have admitted to employing a complex sign-stealing operation. Altuve has denied participating in the scheme.
Two weeks later, a versatile utility player, Kiké Hernández, did it for the Dodgers in the N.L.C.S., collecting seven R.B.I. The game sent the Dodgers to the World Series. (Somehow the Dodgers ran out of room for Hernández, who took his postseason magic to Boston.)
Which brings us to Taylor on Thursday night. Based on the trends, it should happen again, and maybe soon.