With four hits in five at-bats, Brett brings quick end to long 3,000 quest

October 01, 1992|By Earl Bloom | Earl Bloom,Orange County (Calif.) Register

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- George Brett, who began writing his Hall of Fame ticket 19 years ago, punched it at 9:30 last night with a hard, bad-hop single into right field.

Twenty years to the day that the late Roberto Clemente recorded his 3,00th career hit, Brett joined him and 16 other baseball greats in grand style.

"I just felt so comfortable all night," said Brett, who went 4-for-5. "Entering the game, my game plan was to get one hit and not get hurt, [but I was] just so relaxed, I couldn't believe it, all night."

With one out in the top of the seventh inning and the Anaheim Stadium crowd of 17,336 standing and cheering, Brett -- who already had hits in his first three at-bats -- smashed California Angels rookie reliever Tim Fortugno's first-pitch fastball at veteran second baseman Ken Oberkfell, whose only play was one of recoil for survival.

"It's OK for him to get 3,000 hits," Oberkfell said, "but does he have to almost kill me in the process?"

Brett, 39, was instantly mobbed at first base by his Kansas City teammates, who spilled out of the dugout and bullpen.

"It felt good," Brett said of the swing that produced No. 3,000. "I looked up, and the second baseman, Oberkfell, was standing there. I said, 'Oh [expletive], he's going to catch it.' But it took a bad hop and went over his head."

The ball, bat and first-base bag instantly became trophies, and Brett acknowledged the crowd's cheers, as well as Fortugno.

"It means I played a long time," Brett said of the milestone's implications, "got a lot of at-bats, got a lot of hits. It just happened a half-hour ago -- it's hard to say [what it means]. My mind is going so fast right now. If I had a beer in my hand, it might be easier."

One out later, Fortugno picked Brett off first base to end the TTC inning -- but it's understandable. Brett's focus might have been elsewhere, with the milestone reached and Kansas City safely en route to a 4-0 victory.

El Segundo High, where it all really started, perhaps. Or one of his hitting lessons from the late Charlie Lau. Or maybe Brett's first major-league hit, a single to left field off Chicago's Stan Bahnsen on Aug. 2, 1973, at old Comiskey Park.

Between that hit and last night's four, Brett became the only player to win batting titles in three decades (1976, 1980 and 1990). And, with his .390 mark in '80, Brett came oh-so-close to being the first player to bat .400 since Ted Williams in 1941.

Brett had been forced to sit out the past two nights against the Angels because of a strained left shoulder that required a cortisone injection. But he felt able enough to play yesterday after taking some practice swings off a tee.

"It was the furthest thing from my mind tonight that I'd get four hits," Brett said.

But with brother Ken doing color commentary for SportsChannel, Brett became the 18th player to reach the magical, 3,000-hit milestone. Milwaukee's Robin Yount became the 17th on Sept. 9, preceding Brett by three weeks.

In the ninth inning, Wally Joyner's two-out single gave him a chance at No. 3,001, to the crowd's delight, but Brett's grounder to second was kicked for an error -- Oberkfell's first of the season.

Pinch runner Gary Thurman replaced Brett at first, as he called it a night after the 54th four-hit game of his career and fifth of the season.

"That fifth at-bat was really a letdown," was Brett's first remark in his postgame news conference, eliciting laughter.

Brett got his first three hits of the night off Angels starter Julio Valera (8-11). Nos. 2,997 and 2,998 weren't pretty, but they counted.

In the first inning, Brett hit a sinking looper to short left field that somehow dipped under Rob Ducey's running, backhanded attempt for a gift double.

Ducey hadn't played in the outfield since Sept. 15, when he spent two innings in left in relief of Luis Polonia. The last start for Ducey was Sept. 9.

In the third inning, Brett grounded one to the right side that got past Oberkfell's dive and trickled into right field for a single.

But in the fifth, Brett followed Joyner's ninth home run -- and first against his former team -- with a solid single to center field. That Brett hit sparked the first standing ovation of the night.

"I think it's great George got it," Angels manager Buck Rodgers said. "He hit the ball hard."

As for the first two hits, Rodgers said: "I'm sure, on the way to 3,000 hits, there were some questionable hits and some hits that were called errors. The most important thing is, George Brett has been a great ballplayer for a lot of years.

"When I think of George Brett, I think of an All-Star third baseman who can do it all: hit, hit with power, run and throw. He's a player's player and I'm happy for him."

All but lost in the Brett story was Royals right-hander Rick Reed's second career major-league shutout, a seven-hitter that extended the Angels' scoreless streak to 18 consecutive innings.

Mike Macfarlane homered for the third straight night for the Royals.

The only other shutout by Reed (3-7) came June 25, 1990, a four-hitter for Pittsburgh over Philadelphia.

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