When Darin Ruf addressed the crowd at America's Classic Ballpark before Reading's final home game of the season, he told the home fans that he has had more fun this season than he has ever had playing baseball.
Ruf continued the party Thursday night, blasting his 38th home run of the season to break the club record set by Ryan Howard in 2004. The homer -- Ruf's 20th in the month of August -- was part of a four-RBI night for the Phillies' No. 12 prospect as he led Double-A Reading to a 7-2 win over Binghamton.
The 23-year-old was modest when questioned about his accomplishment, quick to point out that Howard, who has since become a three-time Major League All-Star, hit his 37 homers in only 102 games and finished the 2004 season with a total of 46 after being promoted to Triple-A in late July.
But Ruf did say that breaking the record -- especially in front of the home crowd -- was a very special feeling.
"I still keep it in perspective because [Howard] ended up hitting 40-something that year, and [set the record] in about 20 fewer games," he said. "But to have the Reading record with the fans being so great, it's something I'll remember forever."
The latest shot capped a historic August for Ruf, tying Sammy Sosa's record for the most home runs in a single month in professional ball while breaking the R-Phils' record for total bases in a season of 287 set by Greg Luzinski in 1970. Thursday's performance brought Ruf's total to an even 300. Sosa cranked 20 in June 1998 for the Chicago Cubs.
"I haven't really changed anything," he said. "I've been working on the same things in the cage all year and now it's all just coming together. I haven't missed too many mistake pitches by the pitchers, and I've just kind of been locked in all month.
"I've had a pretty good season and I wanted to finish strong, but this is a little more than even I had anticipated. ... It's been unbelievable."
Earlier Thursday, the Eastern League awarded Ruf with both Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year honors. The Omaha native is a legitimate Triple Crown threat in his first season at Double-A, leading the league in home runs and RBIs (102), with a batting average of .321 that trails Altoona's Brock Holt (now with Triple-A Indianapolis) by one percentage point.
Only six players in Eastern League history have won the Triple Crown, and no Phillies hitter has ever achieved the feat.
Ruf, who is listed as a first baseman but has started nine of the Phillies' last 10 games in left field, also ranks first on the circuit in on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.634). He carries an OPS of 1.047 that leads all full-season Minor Leaguers.
"It's a fun place to play," Ruf said. "The coaching staff we have here of Dusty [Wathan], Frank [Cacciatore] and Bob [Milacki], they're amazing, and so are all the teammates I've played with this year. We've had quite a turnover, but the guys that were here at the beginning and the guys that are here now just make it fun to show up at the park every day.
"I like to think of the MVP as a team award. I won it, but I couldn't have done any of it without all of them."
The Phillies' 20th-round Draft pick in 2009 has improved his power stats exponentially over his four-year career, increasing his home run and RBI totals each season. His 38 home runs so far this season are more than double his 2011 total of 17.
Reading closer Justin Friend earned his own place in the Phillies' record books as well, He entered with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and induced a triple play to record his 24th save of the season, tying the club record.
Friend has been dominant this season, boasting a 0.24 ERA. He has allowed just two runs in 37 innings at Double-A.
Austin Hyatt (8-5) picked up the win for Reading, surrendering two runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings.
Mets starter Darin Gorski (9-8) was chased after just two innings, allowing six runs on five hits.