The Dodgers expected big things out of right fielder Shawn Green in 2002. The 29-year old was in his third season with the club, and coming off a season in which he set the franchise record with 49 home runs. His disgruntled slugging outfield mate Gary Sheffield was shipped off to Atlanta before the season, so Green had to take more of the offensive burden on his shoulders.
But on May 18 Green was hitting just .230/.337/.342. In an 0-for-15 slump, Green was benched for a game by manager Jim Tracy for the first time in his Dodger career.
"We had a little bit of a chat [Friday] night about some things, and I told him I think it's a good idea to give him a day off," Tracy told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. "He was in agreement. I want to get him away from the action for a day."
"Sometimes it helps to take a step back," Green said. "You can let your mind rest when you sit on the bench. When you stay a little detached, maybe you see things from a different perspective. I don't like doing it, but at the same time, it's the right thing to do."
Green returned to the lineup on May 19 and went 1-for-4 with a double, a walk and a run scored in a win over the Montreal Expos, but ended the homestand with just three home runs and 21 RBI in 44 team games.
In the first game of the road trip in Milwaukee Green hit a pair of solo home runs, taking Nelson Figueroa and Mike Buddie deep. One day later Green tripled off Ben Sheets, giving him four extra-base hits in three games, perhaps a sign that things were beginning to turn around for Green.
On May 23 in Milwaukee, 10 years ago today, Green doubled and scored in the first inning, then hit a three-run home run in the second inning as the Dodgers built an early 8-1 lead off Brewers starter Glendon Rusch.
In comparison to Rusch, Brian Mallette pitched quite well in relief, allowing just two runs in his two innings, but both runs came on Shawn Green solo home runs, giving Green three bombs by the fifth inning.
Green singled off Jose Cabrera in the eighth inning, giving him five hits, but it seemed unlikely Green would get a chance to tie the major league record for home runs in a game, with Gil Hodges in 1950 the only Dodger on the list.
Chad Kreuter doubled to lead off the ninth, but after pitcher Jeff Williams and Jeff Reboulet were retired, Green needed Adrian Beltre to reach base in order to get another at-bat. Beltre obliged, hitting a home run to left center to give the Dodgers a 14-2 lead and give Green one more chance.
Green, again facing Cabrera, slammed a 1-1 pitch over the wall in right center field wall to complete the greatest offensive game in baseball history. Six at-bats, six hits, four home runs, one double, six runs, seven RBI, and a record 19 total bases.
"The ball had been looking like a pingpong ball," Green told the Times. "Today, it probably looked like a softball. It slowed down a lot. The last six weeks, the ball seemed to be going fast, and I was having a tough time, jumping at pitches. Today, I was able to sit back and wait for it."
As DiGiovanna put it, "Not bad for a guy who went five consecutive games without hitting a ball out of the infield last week."
But Green wasn't done. He hit a home run off Curt Schilling in the first inning one day later in Arizona, giving him seven consecutive hits. Green took Rick Helling and Eddie Oropesa deep one day after that, part of a six RBI day that gave Green a record seven home runs in a three-game span.
Two days after that, Green took Cabrera deep again, this time at Dodger Stadium, giving him a record 10 home runs in a seven-game span. Green went from hitting .231/.339/.346 with three home runs and 21 RBI at the start of the road trip to hitting .282/.372/.559 with 13 home runs and 39 RBI just seven days later.
Thanks in large part to the greatest offensive game of all-time. Ten years ago, today.
Over at The Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe has more on Green's big day, plus several other historical tidbits, including Tommy Lasorda accidentally locking himself in his office.