Sunday night against the Rangers, Miguel Cabrera went 4-for-4 with three home runs, a single, a walk, five RBI and four runs scored. His OPS for the game was 4.250. I don't think we need park adjustments to agree that's a decent number.
Here's the thing, though: The Tigers lost. Texas beat them 11-8. Cabrera's quarter-mile of homers (441 feet, 403, 404) were wasted.
Immediately this made me think of Bob Horner.
Horner was my favorite player on the Atlanta Braves of my high school and college years. Dale Murphy was the best player on those teams, and I loved him, too. But Horner was more my type. He played third base, my favorite position. He looked like he got seconds at the clubhouse buffet, and I could relate. He hit the ball the way I dreamed I would. Murphy's homers looked accidental -- he'd poke one out to right field, and the ball would do a Fosbury Flop over the fence. When Bob Horner hit one out, he drilled it. He went straight from Arizona State to the majors in 1978 and was NL Rookie of the Year. He hit 33 homers with 98 RBI in '79, and 35 HR and 89 RBI in '80.
But he couldn't stay healthy. This was 30 years ago, but I can tell you without looking it up that he broke the navicular bone in his wrist in 1983. The Braves had won the National League West* the year before and were 5½ games up on the Dodgers with 43 games left. With Horner out, L.A. won the division. He played 10 seasons in the majors and made it to 100 games just six times. Something was always strained, sprained or torn. I remember a commercial he did back then that played off his injuries. He was in a lounge chair at third base, reached down for a grounder and yelled "Oh, my wrist!" It was funny … the first time.
*Yes, the Braves used to be in the National League West. Geography in sports works like continental drift.
All this led to a Wrestlemania moment during the great Braves-Padres brawl of 1984, when he popped out of the dugout with a cast on his wrist to stop Champ Summers from going after the late Pascual Perez. (Horner would have been a great wrestler. He didn't even need to bleach his hair! Plus, the cast was a perfect foreign object.)
But the Bob Horner moment I remember best is July 6, 1986.
It was a Sunday afternoon and the Braves were playing the Montreal Expos. I was a cops reporter, chasing wrecks around Augusta, Ga., with the police scanner in one ear and the Braves on the radio in the other.
Horner homered in the bottom of the second off Andy McGaffigan to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. He soloed again off McGaffigan with the Expos up 4-1 in the fourth. Unfortunately, MLB rules allowed the Expos to keep batting. It was 10-4 Montreal when Horner came up in the bottom of the fifth with two on. McGaffigan was still pitching. For the third straight time, Horner took him deep to left.
By the bottom of the ninth it was 11-7. Ken Oberkfell singled. Murphy hit into a double play. Horner came up again, this time against Expos closer Jeff Reardon. I had made my cop checks and was parked in front of the newspaper. Both ears on the radio now.
Reardon left one over the middle of the plate. Horner swung.
At the time, he was just the 11th player to hit four homers in a game. Even now, just 16 players have done it -- the most recent was Josh Hamilton against the Orioles last year. Four homers in a game is more rare than perfect games (23) and almost as rare as unassisted triple plays (15).
What makes Horner's even more special -- if that's the right word -- is that he's one of only two players to hit four homers in a loss. The other time was way back in 1896, when future Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty of the Phillies did it in a 9-8 loss to the Cubs. Delahanty died in 1903 when he fell (or was he pushed?) into Niagara Falls.
(One other oddity from that Braves-Expos game: In the top of the fourth, Montreal second baseman Al Newman connected off the Braves' Zane Smith. Newman had 2,409 plate appearances over eight years in the big leagues. That was his only home run.)
There's something noble about being brilliant in a loss. David Robinson scored 50 for Navy in his last college game, but Michigan beat him in the NCAA tournament. Don Strock threw for 403 yards and four TDs for the Dolphins in that epic 1982 playoff game, but Dan Fouts and the Chargers got the win. Steve Carlton had one of the great pitching seasons in baseball history in 1972, going 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a Phillies team that finished 59-97.
The year Bob Horner hit four in one game was his last year with the Braves. They went 72-89. He played in Japan in 1987, played 60 games for the Cardinals in '88, and then he was done. He was just 30 when his career ended, the same age Miguel Cabrera is now.
I wish the Braves had won more when Horner played, and I wish his body had let him play more games. But that day against Montreal is still one of my favorite days in baseball. Sometimes the most beautiful rose is the one that grows in the weeds.