Reds star hits 500th career home run
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Griffey Jr. trotted around the bases as if it were just another home run. It was anything but that.
Griffey hit a 2-2 fastball from Matt Morris into the right-field stands to lead off the sixth inning Sunday, securing a spot in the record books as the 20th player with 500 homers.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd ever accomplish this," Griffey said. "All the aches and pains I've had this year were gone for like two minutes. It was awesome."
The star center fielder ended a frustrating stretch with the swing, which helped the Cincinnati Reds beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-0. At 34, he became the sixth-youngest player to reach the milestone.
Griffey, stuck on No. 499 for a week, took a few extra seconds to watch his drive fly into the seats, then dropped his bat and slowly trotted around the bases with his 19th homer of the season.
"I'm sure he's relieved," manager Dave Miley said. "I'm sure he's happy to get it over with."
The base coaches simply shook Griffey's hand as he passed by. When Griffey crossed the plate, he tapped fists with teammate Adam Dunn, who then patted Griffey on the helmet. All of his teammates then came out on the field to congratulate him after the historic homer.
"I just told him, 'About time," Barry Larkin said. "That's all."
Griffey then went to a box next to the Reds' dugout and hugged his father, Ken Griffey, and children. The elder Griffey said Junior told him, simply, "Happy Father's Day."
Ken Griffey Sr. said, though, that his son won't get off that easily.
"It was a nice Father's Day present, but it's an easy way to get out of giving me something," Griffey Sr. said. "He used to do that for me for my birthday all the time.
"He's got to get something else now."
Griffey Jr. jokingly said he gets his dad the same thing every Father's Day. "Old Spice and underwear," he said.
Griffey, the first to reach 500 in a Cincinnati uniform, got a warm ovation from a sellout crowd of 45,620 on Lou Brock bobblehead day. He then received a standing ovation as he ran out to the field before the bottom of the sixth, responding with a wave of his cap.
"Under those circumstances, it wasn't like it was a game winner," Cardinals right fielder Reggie Sanders said. "They were already up 5-0.
"But they would do it whatever the circumstances were because they appreciated it. That's why they're the best fans in baseball."
Before Griffey reached center field, Reds relievers came out of the bullpen and congratulated him.
"I wasn't expecting all of my teammates to come out," Griffey said. "I really appreciate it. I thought for sure (Sean) Casey was going to blindside me."
The ball was caught by 19-year-old Mark Crummley of Mount Carmel, Ill., who gave it back to Griffey after the game. Griffey gave Crummley the jersey off his back and a large shopping bag filled with other memorabilia that included a signed bat from Casey.
"It didn't seem right to plea bargain," Crummley said. "So I gave it back to him."
Jung Keun Bong (1-1) allowed three hits in six scoreless innings and three relievers finished a combined four-hit shutout to end the Reds' nine-game road losing streak. The slump was the team's longest since they dropped 10 in a row from June 1-24, 1998.
The Reds, who got a three-run homer from Jason LaRue in the fourth, also averted a three-game sweep and ended the Cardinals' six-game winning streak. The NL Central leaders have won 15 of 20.
Jimmie Foxx was the youngest player to hit 500 homers, reaching the milestone at 32. Willie Mays, Sammy Sosa, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth also hit theirs at 34.
Griffey was the fastest to 350, 400 and 450 before being slowed by injuries the last three seasons. From 2001-03, he played in only 234 games and totaled 43 homers.
Three other active players have hit 500 homers. Barry Bonds is third on the career list with 676, Sosa has 549 and Rafael Palmeiro has 538. Fred McGriff needs seven homers to become the 21st player to hit 500.
Griffey is the second player to hit his 500th homer in St. Louis. Mark McGwire connected for his 500th off Andy Ashby of the San Diego Padres in 1999.
Griffey was 5-for-21 with four RBIss in six games since homering last Sunday against Cleveland, and he hadn't come close to the fences before hitting his big homer off Morris, a drive estimated at 393 feet.
Among those in a sellout crowd watching the historic homer was Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial, born on the same day and in the same town, Donora, Pa. Musial played high school baseball with Griffey's grandfather. During a pregame visit, Griffey told Musial he wanted to play until he's 40.
"For him to come down and say 'Hurry up and get this over with' and 'Good luck!" that meant a lot," Griffey said. "He's one of the main reasons why this ballpark is such a great place to play."
Griffey hit a pair of high fly balls in his first two at-bats. He flied out to center near the warning track leading off the second, and hit a sacrifice fly to center to drive in the first run in the Reds' five-run fourth against Morris.
He finished 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and two RBIss.
Morris (7-6), who had won his previous three starts, gave up six runs on six hits in six innings. He has allowed a major league-high 23 homers in 15 starts and wasn't overly perturbed about being a footnote to history.
"I stayed away with breaking balls until on a 2-2 count I tried to slip a fastball by him," Morris said. "I guess people have been doing that 500 times, and it didn't work."
The Reds are 11-5 against first-place teams. ... The Reds are 15-2 when Griffey homers. He has 11 homers and 28 RBIss in his last 28 games. ... During the road losing streak the Reds were outscored 87-48. ... Lou Brock bobblehead day came on the former basestealing champion's 65th birthday. He also attended the game.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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