Griffey joins kings of clout with No. 600
Reds slugger belts historic homer off Marlins lefty Hendrickson
MIAMI -- As Ken Griffey Jr.'s deep drive landed in the right-field seats at Dolphin Stadium on Monday night, he moved out of the batter's box and trotted through the door of the elite 600 home run club.It's a threshold only five other players have previously entered. Perhaps none of the others went through more physical struggles than Griffey to get there. In the first inning vs. the Marlins during a 9-4 win, Griffey hit a two-run home run off Marlins left-hander Mark Hendrickson that opened up a quick 2-0 lead.
After Jerry Hairston led off the game with an infield single, he stole both second and third base with Griffey up. On a 3-1 curveball from Hendrickson, Griffey connected.Gone. There was no doubt about it as the ball landed about 10-15 rows beyond the fence. "I didn't really think about it running around the bases," Griffey said. "I don't think I even touched any of the bases. I sort of floated around." After he touched home plate, Griffey waved to his wife, Melissa, and the rest of his family that were seated several rows behind home plate. A hug from his 14-year-son, Trey, was waiting for him when he reached the dugout. Trey Griffey has been in uniform watching all four games of the series from the bench. Reds teammates offered hugs and high-fives all around. An announced crowd of 16,003 fans gave Griffey a standing ovation, and he appeared from the dugout for a curtain call. "The guys were happier for him than he was, actually," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "The fans appreciated it. They were going to applaud until he came out. That's typical of Junior." Griffey has hit home runs off of 383 different pitchers and had previously gotten one against Hendrickson on May 13, 2007. "The curveball -- it was one of those pitches that was on the inner half [of the plate]," Hendrickson said. "Good hitter. He hit it a long way." Sixth on the all-time list of home run leaders, Griffey could finish the season fifth if he passes Sammy Sosa, who is up next at 609 homers. The top four on the list are Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660). "I got a call about 10 days ago from Willie, and then I got a call the next day from Hank," Griffey said. "They just said, 'Keep going, have some fun. Just be you.' I think that helped me a little bit having those guys make a call to me and try to settle some of the nerves down."
Griffey Jr.'s milestone home runs
|1||4/10/89||White Sox||Eric King|
|200||5/21/96||Red Sox||Vaughn Eshelman|
If there were nerves, Griffey rarely let it show publicly. In fact, the 38-year-old rarely offered any insight on his thoughts about approaching 600 homers in recent weeks. He preferred to keep it private.Even after getting his homer, Griffey's emotions were in check. He said there was no relief in finally reaching the milestone. "I don't think I really worried about it," he said. "I was just trying to get a good pitch I could hit and be as patient as possible. Hopefully one gets up, and I was fortunate enough today to get a curveball and hit it out." Griffey began the season with 593 home runs, but getting the past seven didn't come easy. It took 65 games and 216 at-bats. No. 599 came on May 31 vs. the Braves at Great American Ball Park and it took 26 plate appearances, including nine walks, over nine games to get 600. In between, he missed three straight starts earlier in the road trip last week at Philadelphia with a sore left knee. Once Griffey reached 599, special authenticated baseballs were used for all of his plate appearances. On Monday, home-plate umpire Bill Hohn swapped in the marked balls from a batboy, just in case homer No. 600 was imminent. It took only one at-bat on Monday. Griffey went 1-for-4 in the game and was lifted during an eighth-inning double switch. "The swing was a lot better the last 10 days or so," Griffey said. "I was able to get the ball in the air instead of just beating it into the ground the last three weeks. Mechanically, I was messed up for a while. I was able to get some of my mechanics back." Griffey, now in his 20th Major League season, had 398 home runs as a member of the Mariners from 1989-99. He now has 202 homers since joining Cincinnati before the 2000 season following a requested trade back to his hometown, where father Ken Griffey Sr. starred as a member of the "Big Red Machine" and played in the big leagues from 1973-91. "My dad hit 152 home runs," Griffey said. "That's who I wanted to be like. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would hit 200 home runs, 300 home runs or even 600." Following his prolific career in Seattle, Griffey's tenure in Cincinnati has been wrought with numerous injuries that prevented him from having equal success. From 2000-07, he missed 453 games with injuries that ranged from a torn right hamstring to a torn tendon in his right knee and a torn right ankle tendon. Numerous plates and screws have been used to put Griffey back together, but he has always endured and worked his way back. Had it not been for that myriad of injuries, Monday might have been part of a quest for 700 home runs. "A tremendous accomplishment for one of the best power hitters of our time," said Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, who was the Reds GM when Griffey was acquired. "If he could have stayed healthy all those years, he would have had over 700 by now and would have become the all-time home run king surpassing Barry Bonds." Baker took a differing view on what could have been. "No, I don't think about that. I'm appreciative of where he is right now," Baker said. "You start projecting and saying where he'd be, it takes away from where he is." Unlike Bonds and Sosa, who reached their home run milestones under allegations they used performance-enhancing drugs during their careers, Griffey has remained above suspicion and has been lauded for doing it the right way. Like milestone homers 200, 300, 400 and 500, Griffey's 600th long ball came while wearing the visitor's uniform. His 500th home run came nearly four years ago, on June 20, 2004, at St. Louis off Matt Morris. "You can't predict home runs and when they're going to come," Griffey said. "Just let them happen."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.