If you had to choose a player who would enter baseball immortality thanks to an exceptional display of power, a 5'10" utilityman with 38 homers in parts of five seasons to his name—which for baseball purposes, is Scooter, by the way—likely wouldn't top your list. Nonetheless, the Reds' Scooter Gennett became the first player in five years and the 17th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a single game. What's more, he put himself into the conversation for the greatest single-game offensive performance ever by collecting a single as well and driving in 10 runs in a 13-1 win over the Cardinals at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
Twenty-seven-year-old Ryan Joseph Gennett (whose nickname origin story is adorable) spent the past three and a half seasons as the Brewers' starting second baseman, and even hit a career-high 14 homers last year. Alas, when the rebuilding Brewers decided he no longer fit their plans, he was placed on waivers near the end of spring training. The Reds picked him up on March 28 and have since used him at second base, third, both outfield corners and DH, which Gennett had accompanied with a modest .270/.308/.450 line with three home runs in 117 plate appearances prior to Tuesday.
Tuesday night’s power surge—which, it’s worth noting, comes at a time when homers are at an all-time high in terms of frequency per game (1.23 per team) and in a homer-conducive ballpark as well—didn’t begin immediately. Batting fifth and playing leftfield, he hit an RBI single off Adam Wainwright in the first inning. The 1-0 score held until the bottom of the third, when he came up with the bases loaded and one out and hit a towering 404-foot grand slam to rightfield:
Following a one-out bases-loaded Eugenio Suarez triple in the fourth that ran the score to 8-0 and chased Wainwright, Gennett greeted reliever John Gant with a 419-foot two-run homer to centerfield. In the sixth, facing Gant again with nobody on and one out, he clubbed a 368-foot solo homer to leftfield, and in the eighth, with the score 11-1, a runner on first and two outs, he swatted a 377-foot two-run shot to right-center. Here's the blast that tied the record:
Gennett became the first player to homer four times in a game since the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton on May 8, 2012. He's the first NL player to hit four since the Dodgers' Shawn Green in 2002, and the first player in the 136-year history of the Reds to do so. Here's the complete list of 17 four-homer players:
May 30, 1894
July 13, 1896
June 3, 1932
July 10, 1936
July 18, 1948
Aug. 31, 1950
July 31, 1954
June 10, 1959
April 30, 1961
April 17, 1976
July 6, 1986
Sept. 7, 1993
May 2, 2002
May 23, 2002
Sept. 25, 2003
May 8, 2012
June 6, 2017
That list includes five Hall of Famers and several other notables, but Gennett is far from being the only obscure name. He is, however, the one with the fewest career homers (42), though to be fair he's still got a chance to surpass Lowe's total of 71 before he’s through. Lowe is the low man given that he had just 32 after completing his big game, while Whiten—whose homers came in a matchup between the same two teams as on Tuesday night—ran his total to 42 with his big binge and ended his career with 105.
What Gennett did on Tuesday goes beyond just the homers. Via the Baseball-Reference Play Index, only five other players—Hodges, Adcock, Schmidt, Green and Hamilton—since 1913 had at least 17 total bases in a game, with Green's 19 (he went 6-for-6 and added a single and a double as well) the record. But none of those five players reached double digits in RBIs on their big day, with Hodges' nine the top total.
Meanwhile, just 13 other players since 1913 have totaled at least 10 RBIs in a game, with Whiten and Jim Bottomley sharing the record of 12; the latter did so for the Cardinals against the Dodgers on Sept. 16, 1924. Seven other players had three homers and 10 RBIs in a game, with the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon (April 30 of this year against the Mets) the most recent to do so and the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez (April 26, 2005 against the Angels) the only other one to do it in this millennium. The Reds' Walker Cooper is among that group as well, doing so on July 6, 1949 against the Cubs.
There's no definitive measure for a single-game offensive performance that's on par with a pitching game score, but it’s worth playing around with a couple of ideas. From a sabermetric point of view, we could turn to Bill James' Runs Created formula, which in its simplest form is [(Hits + Walks) * Total Bases)] / (At Bats + Walks). By that measure, Gennett's 17 runs created has been surpassed only by Adcock and Hamilton (both of whom had a double and four homers in a 5-for-5 night) with 18 and Green with 19. What you’ll notice, however, is that simply replicates the total bases leaders.
While conceding that RBIs are a team-dependent stat and not an individual one, we can nonetheless cobble together a junk stat to capture Gennett’s big night for comparative purposes. The simplest one would be to add total bases and runs batted in, with Gennett's total of 27… bolts, we'll call them bolts because we're rummaging around the junk drawer… topped only by Whiten's 28. If we wanted to apply an extra reward for total hits, so that the rarity of five- and six-hit games is also rewarded within this group, then Gennett, Whiten, Green and Rendon are all tied with 32. None of them drew a walk, and Whiten did make an out, so he'll have to be content with the RBI record; he's bumped from the catbird seat in this Most Impressive Collection of Stats in One Game category.
All of which is to say that Gennett’s four-homer, five-hit, 10-RBI performance belongs in the discussion of the greatest single-game performances of all time—and the most unlikely.