The Syracuse Chiefs needed a big game. Michael Aubrey provided a historic one.
Aubrey hit his first four homers of the season in his first four at-bats Saturday afternoon, collecting seven RBIs and powering the Chiefs to a 11-0 rout of the Durham Bulls at Alliance Bank Stadium.
Aubrey registered the second four-homer game in franchise history. Gene Locklear, who was enshrined in the Syracuse Wall of Fame earlier this year, accomplished the feat on July 14, 1977 against Columbus. Toledo's Alexis Gomez had the last four-homer game in the International League on Aug. 7, 2006.
"It's pretty awesome," Aubrey said. "The pitching coach [Greg Booker] came down to tell me. He said, 'You're only the second guy to do this here.' It's definitely good to make the record books."
The 29-year-old designated hitter had gone without a homer in his first 21 games of the season and the 4-for-4 day boosted his batting average 51 points to .254. He more than tripled his previous total in RBIs (three), while the 11 runs were a season high for the Chiefs, who dropped Friday's series opener after getting swept by Durham in a four-game set last week.
Syracuse already had a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Aubrey worked the count full and fouled off two pitches, including one that was almost fair.
"[It] was just foul by, like, a foot. It would have been a double and I was a little upset because I hit that ball hard," he said. "Then, a couple pitches later, I swung at one and it felt on time. And I really got the barrel on it."
The ball cleared the fence in right-center field and extended the Chiefs' lead to 3-0.
Getting the bats rolling, "felt good," Aubrey said, admitting, "I certainly didn't expect three more after that."
The former first-round pick went yard again in the second, fourth and seventh innings. He had never hit three homers in a pro game, although he's had several two-homer contests.
"When I got two before, I would always be thinking too much about a third one later on," he admitted.
That wasn't the case on Saturday, and Aubrey was almost sure he wouldn't come through with the record-tying fourth longball in the seventh.
"I had watched [Durham reliever Ryan Reid] pitch to some of the other guys and I was saying, 'Man, this guy's got some nasty stuff,'" Aubrey said. "He threw me a first-pitch changeup, then a high fastball and I tried to hook it a little bit. Then he threw me some off-speed stuff, a slider away. It didn't seem like I was going to get a pitch to drive, but he threw me another slider and it got over the plate.
"I dropped the barrel down on it and the moment I hit it, I just thought, 'Oh, man, I hope I got enough.'"
Basking in the glow of the Chiefs' most lopsided win of the season, Aubrey shrugged off his early-season jitters.
"It's just a little rocky start. The whole team has sort of had a slow start at the plate," he said. "Playing in Syracuse, we get a lot of cold and rainy weather. As a team, we got a little hot last week and got some confidence. A little bit of confidence can go a long way in the batter's box."
As for the team's recent struggles against Durham, Aubrey said, "They're such a great late-inning team. We were able to put them away early and didn't allow them to have a chance at a comeback. In the seventh, eighth, ninth innings, if you're not three runs up on them, you're not safe."
Aubrey, who signed with the Nationals as a Minor League free agent last December, homered seven times during a six-game stretch last season with Norfolk. Playing for the Orioles on Oct. 2, 2009, he homered twice and drove in six runs against Toronto. He experienced a familiar feeling Saturday.
"That [six-RBI game] was a special day, too. You don't realize it until after it happens, how much fun it was," he said. "When you're in the moment, you've still got the adrenaline flowing and you're in the moment. It's not until a couple of days later or even after the season that you're able to reflect on what a special day it was. I've got some of that right now -- I'm kind of still in game mode."
Following Saturday's power surge, some players might be superstitious and repeat the activities leading up to their historic achievement. Aubrey's not one of them.
"We had a little a community service this morning where we took some kids fishing, like a big brothers program type thing," he said. "We had a night game last night, so we didn't get much sleep. I can't say I'm going to wake myself up to go fishing before day games from now on."
Even with abbreviated rest, there's no question Aubrey enjoyed every moment Saturday.
"Today was [the kind of day] you keep playing for."