Tampa Bay Devil Rays third baseman Wade Boggs became the first player to homer for his 3,000th career hit, connecting for a two-run shot tonight to cap three days of exhilarating baseball milestones.
One day after Tony Gwynn got his 3,000th hit and two days after Mark McGwire hit his 500th home run, Boggs crushed a sixth-inning breaking ball from Cleveland Indians left-hander Chris Haney 372 feet into the right field seats at Tropicana Field.
"I've finally put my flag in that mountain," Boggs said. "A lot of guys try to climb that mountain and try to get there. So many have tried to climb it and just fall short. Now, it's just relief. Now I can eat steak. The poultry industry just went down."
Boggs, who grew up in nearby Tampa, became the 23rd player to get 3,000 hits. As he rounded the bases, Boggs pointed to the sky in tribute to his mother Sue who was killed in a car accident in 1986. A few steps from home, Boggs again pointed up, then got down on his knees and kissed the plate as the crowd of 39,512 broke into celebration.
"Go ahead and kiss that thing," Boggs said he told himself, "you've stepped on it enough so go ahead and kiss it."
Boggs's father, Win, his wife, Debbie, and his 12-year-old son, Brett, came on the field to join the festivities. Brett, whose godfather is fellow 3,000-hit club member George Brett, was the Devil Rays' batboy. Brett reached the milestone in 1992.
Boggs, best known for spraying line drives to the opposite field, reached 3,000 by pulling a rare home run. This was just his second of the season and 118th of his career, which began in 1982 with Boston and later took him to the New York Yankees.
The homer came on Boggs's 9,151st at-bat, the eighth-fewest used to reach 3,000. He is also the second to reach 3,000 against the Indians. Milwaukee's Robin Yount did it in 1992, the last year two players reached 3,000 in the same season.
On every pitch, as Haney worked the count to 1-2, lightbulbs flashed furiously. Haney threw to first base, occupied by Terrell Lowery. Booooo. The next pitch was outside. Then came the fireworks. Fans were presented with a commemorative postcard when the game resumed after a four-minute delay. The Indians eventually won, 15-10.
"Right when it left the bat, I said, `My God, that's a home run and I won't get that ball back,' " Boggs said.
The home run ball was caught by Mike Hogan, a 32-year-old Tampa resident and assistant sports information director at the University of South Florida. Hogan gave the ball to Boggs for a jersey and a bat.
"He wanted my firstborn son," Boggs said, "but I couldn't give up that."
Boggs's first at-bat gave no hint of the festivities to come. After a first-pitch strike from starter Charles Nagy, Boggs bounced meekly to second. That was par for the course. Boggs came into the game batting .204 (11 for 54) against him.
Boggs came up in the third inning with the bases loaded and none out. A career .361 batter in such situations, Boggs sharply pulled a 1-0 Nagy fastball between first and second for hit No. 2,998.
The crowd erupted. It turned it up a few decibels moments later when Boggs, 41, huffed and puffed his way from first to home on Fred McGriff's three-run double.
Boggs registered No. 2,999 off Nagy in the fourth inning with a sharply hit two-out single to right that scored Aaron Ledesma from third and prompted a hearty cheer from the crowd. The fans did the same after Boggs was stranded at first and trotted back to the dugout. After homering, he walked in his final plate appearance in the eighth.
All this for a guy the Red Sox never expected to get to the major leagues. In fact, George Zuraw, who scouted Boggs at Plant High School for the Cincinnati Reds, said he didn't even consider Boggs a draft pick.
Zuraw, now a scout for the Mariners, said Boggs ran a 7.2 60-yard dash (prospects needed to run at least a 6.8), had a weak arm and was deficient at third.
"He could always hit, but we didn't sign just hitters," Zuraw said. "The other traits had to be there."
The Red Sox, at the insistence of scout George Digby, drafted Boggs in the seventh round. Boggs knew of his scouting report and asked Red Sox coaches to hit him ground balls so he would have to dive to make the plays.
Boggs won Gold Gloves for the Yankees in 1994 and '95. He also is the only player this decade to put together seven consecutive 200-hit seasons. He has won five batting titles and is a 12-time all-star.
This is the sixth time that two players have gotten their 3,000th hit in the same season. Baltimore Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken could become the third player to reach 3,000 this year. Ripken, currently on the DL, needs 32 more.
Gwynn, an eight-time NL batting champion who also made his major league debut in '82, had said he wanted to beat Boggs to 3,000. The Padres star did it Friday in Montreal with a first-inning single.
"Our careers have been right in line with each other," said Gwynn, 39. "I heard he hit a home run for 3,000 so I know he had to be thrilled to death to be the first one to do that."