Griffin's surge tabbed Best Performance

D-backs prospect blasted five homers in five ABs; four in one game

By Tyler Maun / MiLB.com | October 27, 2014 10:00 AM

"It didn't make any difference to George Kalafatis which pitcher Birmingham offered Tuesday night," The Associated Press reported on July 2, 1969. "He hit all of them a ton."

Nearly 45 years later, had one swapped out the name George Kalafatis for Jon Griffin, the story would have been much the same.

Only once in Southern League history had a player hit four home runs in a single game. In the twilight of the '60s, 19 days before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, the Montgomery Rebels routed the Birmingham A's, 13-0, and Kalafatis did his best to send four baseballs into orbit.

On May 21, 2014, Double-A Mobile's Griffin did the same, and he didn't even need the game's first four innings to accomplish the feat.

When Griffin stepped to the plate to lead off the top of the fifth inning for Double-A Mobile, he was a 1-for-2 hitter on a good night offensively for his club. The BayBears led the Smokies, 6-3, midway through the opener of a five-game series on the road at Tennessee. Over his next four trips to the dish, Griffin unleashed a torrent of power on four monster swings that turned his night into one for the ages.

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The towering first baseman connected with a first-pitch offering from former Major Leaguer Joel Pineiro in the fifth, his leadoff home run the first of two runs in the inning. In the sixth, the D-backs prospect did it again, belting the first two-out pitch he saw from Smokies reliever Austin Kirk over the center-field wall for another solo smash. The BayBears' lead had ballooned to six runs, but Griffin's night was just getting started.

Due up eighth in the seventh inning, Griffin watched as his teammates went to work, putting five men on the basepaths and scoring three times to bring him to the plate with two out and two on. After working the count full, the 25-year-old mashed a three-run shot to cap the frame.

Two innings later, with the game firmly in-hand via a 10-run lead, the University of Central Florida product got one final shot at history. With David Peralta at first following his leadoff walk, Griffin strode to the batter's box.

"When you have a game like that and you've got three homers already, you don't know if you'll have another shot," Griffin told MiLB.com that night. "The way I was seeing the ball, I really wanted another one. And I'm glad I got it."

With four hits and five RBIs already in his pocket that night, Griffin didn't know what to expect in terms of what he would see to hit during the at-bat -- if anything.

"I wasn't sure if they were going to come at me," he said. "I knew we had a big lead, I knew it was possible. I was really just trying to be patient and get a ball up in the zone that I could get extended on."

With fans in the stands chanting -- for a visiting hitter, no less -- Griffin found an offering to his liking, and the second pitch of his sixth at-bat found Griffin's barrel once more, and the Bradenton, Florida, native pummeled it to the opposite field, depositing a two-run shot beyond the wall in right for his record-tying tater.

"Anytime you make a record book in pro ball, it's an honor, especially with all of the names that have come out of this league," Griffin said. "That's a pretty cool thing to look back on and say I was a part of."

Griffin's fourth and final home run marked his fifth hit of the night and put seven RBIs on his stat line. It also put the finishing touches on a day that helped make May Griffin's best offensive month of the season. The 2011 21st-round Draft selection batted .253/.389/.560 in May, good for a .950 OPS that checked in 244 points higher than his next-best month in the 2014 season.

"When you first start off the year, you want to succeed and do well, so you put pressure on yourself," he said that night. "Lately, I just kind of relaxed up there and not try and do too much. I'm just trying to cut down on my swing-and-misses and foul balls. Lately, I've been seeing the ball pretty well and hit pitches pretty well."

What Griffin's fourth home run also did was send his name ricocheting around the sports world. Unlike the newspaper-heavy coverage of Kafalatis' feat 45 years earlier, it didn't take until the next morning for Griffin's feat to get national attention, and his legend grew the following day when he homered in his first at-bat of the BayBears' May 22 loss, extending his streak to five straight at-bats with a long ball. Only four other players in Minor League history had homered in five straight at-bats before Griffin's streak.

"When I got to second base on the last one in the first game, it finally dawned on me that it was four in a row," he told MiLB.com in June. "The next day, I wasn't even thinking about a streak or anything. The homer just happened."

That landed Mobile's hottest name on MLB.com, MLB Network, ESPN.com and Sportscenter among other destinations.

"It was pretty cool," Griffin told Bradenton.com that week. "I didn't get to see the MLB Network, [and] I just saw a glimpse of the Sportscenter segment. Obviously, I am going to embrace it while I can."

In addition to etching his name in the Southern League record book, Griffin's matched anything a Major Leaguer has accomplished in a single game, and his fifth straight homer on the 22nd marked a feat no big leaguer has yet accomplished.

Though Cubs prospect Javier Baez hit four homers in a Florida State League game just under a year prior, no Major Leaguer has done so since Josh Hamilton belted four bombs as a member of the Texas Rangers in 2012.

"It's a great feeling," Griffin said to Bradenton.com. "You go up and get mentioned with some great names. I saw a Tweet with my name next to Josh Hamilton's name. It's really still amazing for me to see that."

Griffin had never hit more than two home runs in a single game prior to his record-setting night, though he had posted seven multi-homer contests in his career, including one just eight days earlier in a win at Jacksonville.

Not surprisingly, Griffin was honored as Southern League Player of the Week for the period ending May 26, and his solid first half, during which he batted .245 with 13 home runs and 44 RBIs, netted him SL All-Star accolades. During the league's 2014 Home Run Derby at Chattanooga's historic Engel Stadium, Griffin finished second to then-Tennessee slugger Kris Bryant, who would cap the season atop all of Minor League Baseball with 43 jacks.

The powerful night in May provides a historic and impressive footnote to Griffin's career, but the slugger hopes it will one day be just that.

"Hopefully I'll be remembered for something more before I'm done," he said in June. "I'm chasing the dream.

Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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