Junior Hits 600th Home Run

MIAMI (AP) - Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 600th home run on Monday
night, completing his long ascent and becoming the sixth player in
history to reach that milestone.
The Cincinnati outfielder homered off Florida lefty Mark
Hendrickson in the first inning of the Reds' 9-4 victory against
the Marlins. Griffey joined Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth,
Willie Mays and Sammy Sosa.
The 38-year-old homered with Jerry Hairston on third and one
out. The left-handed swinger launched a 3-1 pitch 413 feet into the
right-field seats.
Griffey received a standing ovation from the crowd of 16,003 and
responded by coming out of the Reds dugout and waving his helmet to
the fans.
"I don't think I touched any of the bases. I sort of floated
around," Griffey said.
Manager Dusty Baker has managed the last three players to
achieve the milestone: Bonds in San Francisco, Sosa in Chicago and
now Griffey. He was there for Bonds' 600th, on Aug. 9, 2002.
"It's awesome every time you see a milestone like that," Baker
said. "It doesn't take away from the others. It adds to it."
The game was the last one of an eight-game road trip for the
Reds, who will return home Tuesday night to play the St. Louis
Cardinals.
Controversy ensued in the stands following the home run. Justin
Kimball, a 25-year-old from Miami, said he caught the home run
ball, put it in a wool cap and then had the cap ripped from his
hands. Kimball said someone ran off with the ball.
Police said they had found the fan with the baseball and would
look at video tape to see if Kimball's claims could be supported.
However, the Florida Marlins announced Major League Baseball had
authenticated the home run ball for a middle-aged male fan who
would only give his first name as Joe.
Paul Bako had his first career multihomer game - three-run and
two-run shots - and Brandon Phillips added a solo homer in support
of Edinson Volquez (9-2), who gave up three runs in six innings.
Griffey ended the game 1-for-4 with a strikeout and an
intentional walk. He exited in the middle of the eighth.
Hairston left the game in the middle of the first after
suffering a fractured left thumb when stealing second.
Hendrickson (7-4) allowed six runs - five earned - and five hits
in 2 1-3 innings. Mike Jacobs homered for the Marlins.
Still, the game will be remembered for Griffey's historic homer.
The slugger hasn't enjoyed many golden moments since the Reds
got him from Seattle in 2000. This will rank as one of his best
with Cincinnati and, possibly, one of his last, given that he's in
the final year of his contract.
It was a long time coming.
Griffey, one of baseball's most prolific sluggers before
injuries began to take their toll, started the season with 593 home
runs.
It took 216 at-bats to make history - his previous homer came
May 31.
Griffey hit No. 597 on April 23 at Great American Ball Park,
then went 90 at-bats - the second-longest drought of his career -
before connecting again in San Diego on May 22.
He went another 29 at-bats, and even got a day off during the
week to work on his swing, before hitting No. 599. Griffey went 17
at-bats between that homer and No. 600.
"I've been swinging the bat a lot better the last 10 days or
so," Griffey said. "I was able to get the ball in the air. I
wasn't beating the ball into the ground like I had been."
Like his 400th and 500th, this home run came on the road.
Unlike Bonds and Sosa, Griffey has stayed clear of questions
about whether he came by all of his homers legitimately. His name
has never come up in baseball's steroids scandal. Unlike Sosa, he's
never been caught using a doctored bat.
Although Junior is linked numerically with Hammerin' Hank and
the Babe, he has never been defined by the home run.
His game is so well-rounded that he was voted an All-Century
outfielder with Seattle before his 30th birthday. By then, his
backward cap and light-up smile were the face of baseball.
His statistics were setting the pace, too. When Griffey was
traded to his hometown team before the 2000 season, he was
significantly ahead of Aaron's record home run pace.
It seemed like a sure bet that when his nine-year, $116.5
million contract was wrapping up this year, he'd be the next home
run king, or close to it. Then, the city would have two of its own
atop baseball's revered lists - Pete Rose as the hits king, Junior
as the home run king.
It hasn't turned out that way.
Griffey hit 40 homers in his first season with the Reds, when he
became the youngest to reach 400 career. Then came a succession of
major injuries - torn hamstrings, torn patella tendon, separated
shoulder, torn ankle - that knocked him way off Aaron's pace.
Nearly knocked him off the map, too.
The one-time superstar got booed in his hometown and overlooked
in conversation about the game's best players. It took him more
than four years to get to homer No. 500 in 2004.
It seemed he might never make it to 600.
A year later, he was back in the swing.
Griffey hit 35 homers in 2005, winning the comeback player
award. He followed it with 27 homers in 2006.
Last season, he played in 144 games - his most since 2000 - and
hit 30 homers, leaving him seven shy of No. 600. The Reds erected a
countdown board at Great American Ball Park, and featured him on
the cover of the 2008 media guide.
While he closed in on the prominent power number, Griffey gave
it little thought. He's never spent much time thinking about his
statistics. He preferred to wait and talk about No. 600 when he got
it.
Until then, his personal homer list would have to speak for
itself.
Griffey was the youngest player in the majors - still only 19 -
on April 10, 1989, when he homered off the Chicago White Sox's Eric
King on the first pitch he saw at Seattle's Kingdome.
Homer No. 36 was one of his most satisfying. It came one batter
after his father, Ken Sr., homered off California's Kirk McCaskill
on Sept. 14, 1990, an unprecedented father-and-son moment in the
majors.
Even now, Griffey says those two seasons he spent playing with
his father in Seattle were the best times of his career. And he has
suggested that he would like to finish his career back there.


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