07/23/2002 5:34 PM ET
Garciaparra celebrates his birthday
Red Sox shortstop hits three homers, drives in eight
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
BOSTON -- The explosion Nomar Garciaparra inflicted on the Devil Rays on Tuesday afternoon was epic, even for a player of his caliber. Oh, it came on his birthday? You don't even fantasize about something like that.
Especially not if you are Garciaparra, who is always embarrassed about being the center of attention. This is why he considers birthdays "low key."
In other words, he never wasted a second considering what it would be like to hit three homers -- including a grand slam -- on his 29th birthday. He doesn't like to think about individual statistics or accomplishments. They don't register on his radar of importance.
As far as Garciaparra is concerned, the best way to spend a birthday is doing the two things he loves most. Playing baseball and winning.
Backed by the second three-homer game of his career -- the last one was in 1999 against Seattle -- Garciaparra's Red Sox pummeled the Devil Rays 22-4 in the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park.
Just make sure not to tell Garciaparra -- who hit all three homers over Fenway's fabled Green Monster -- that this victory was all about him.
"Someone can hit three home runs, and you could easily have three solo shots," Garciaparra said, "But I was able to get a lot of RBIs because there was a lot of guys on base and everyone was doing their job in front of me."
It added up to eight RBIs for Garciaparra, who has smacked five homers in the last two games. How sudden was this summer afternoon explosion? The three homers came in a span of two innings. The first two in Boston's 10-run third, and the grand slam in the six-run fourth.
That led to a pair of firsts for Garciaparra. He was the first Major Leaguer to hit three home runs on his birthday, and the first to hit three home runs in a span of two innings.
But those aren't the things that will bring a smile to his face. Those are just random numbers.
"The greatest thing about today was the way our team came back and battled back after the series we had over the weekend," said Garciaparra. "Being down 4-0 early on, it's easy to say, 'We're tired, long road trip.' But we just said, 'Hey, let's pick it up and go out to swing,' because we know we are capable of doing it. It was pretty contagious today. A lot of guys had good days today. You could put a lot of guys in here to sit in my spot (in the interview room) today, but I think I'm here because it's my birthday."
"The greatest thing about today was the way our team came back and battled back after the series we had over the weekend.
Being down 4-0 early on, it's easy to say, 'we're tired, long road trip.' But
we just said, 'hey, let's pick it up and go out to swing.'|
-- Nomar Garciaparra
Actually, he was there because he's on fire. He has been hot in spurts this season, but there have been no outbursts like this. And he was in his worst slump of the season before hitting two homers in New York Sunday.
The recent home-run surge has bumped his total up to 16, which is still a modest total in this era of the long ball. But Garciaparra, who also has a .305 average, 34 doubles and 81 RBIs, doesn't get caught up in power.
Like birthdays, home runs are an individual thing. Sure, he could hit more of them. But he'd rather do what it takes to win.
"I just try and put the bat on the ball, do what the situation asks, drive the runs in," he said. "They happened to go out of the ballpark, sometimes they hit the wall."
Garciaparra had two more at-bats after the grand slam. In other words, two more chances to tack on to what was already one of the best games of his career. But he didn't swing for the fences. In fact, he passed on a fairly juicy 3-1 pitch and took a walk in the sixth, and then flew out to right-center in the eighth.
As you can probably guess, he didn't feel any disappointment over not launching a record-tying fourth homer.
Said Garciaparra: "I'm not thinking about, 'Keep hitting home runs.' That wasn't the issue. I wasn't thinking about them when I hit them. I'm just trying to get a good pitch and drive the ball. Guys are on base, try to drive them in. It was already a great day."
A day when Garciaparra was thrust into the spotlight, whether he wanted to be or not.
From the roses left at his locker before the game, to the countless birthday signs in the stands in honor of the man Bostonians call "Nomah", to the way the crowd of 33,190 serenaded "Happy Birthday" to him after the third homer and in the ninth inning, there was no question who the center of attention was.
His teammates enjoyed watching it unfold. Garciaparra's selfless attitude is why he has so much respect in the confines of his clubhouse.
"I think Nomar solidified his MVP candidacy not only for our team but for the league," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "It was a close call before today's game. We had some legitimate guys who have helped this team, but I think Nomar is stepping to the forefront."
How was Garciaparra planning on spending the three hours between games?
"Hopefully take a little nap and try to sleep and relax and let my body calm down and get ready for the next one," he said.
There were still nine innings left to go, and that was the best news of all for a man who didn't have any time for a birthday party.
Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for MLB.com, can be reached at
Ian.Browne@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.