Buck wild: Jays catcher belts three homers
Slumping veteran breaks out with blasts in third, fourth, sixth
TORONTO -- Hours before game time, and well ahead of the Blue Jays' regularly scheduled pregame batting practice, John Buck grabbed a bat and stepped up to the plate in an empty and darkened Rogers Centre on Thursday afternoon.
Hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and manager Cito Gaston looked on from behind the cage, pitching coach Bruce Walton fired off fastballs and curveballs, and Buck went to work, willing to try anything -- even an unusually early hitting session -- to break out of his slump.
At least for one day, it worked.
A few hours later, Buck hoisted the Blue Jays on his shoulders and launched three home runs to muscle out a 6-3 victory over the A's. Following Buck's feat of strength, Gaston leaned back in his chair inside his office, marveling at the catcher's performance.
"Buck had a night that you can only dream of as a kid," Gaston said. "Three home runs in a ballgame -- that's something."
It is an accomplishment that has only been achieved by 344 different players in Major League history. It was the 15th time in Jays history that a player launched at least three homers in a game. When Buck flew out to right field in his fourth and final at-bat in the eighth inning, Carlos Delgado remained the only Toronto player with four blasts in a single contest.
Delgado cleared the fence four times in a game against Tampa Bay on Sept. 25, 2003, becoming one of 15 players to string together a quartet. The last Blue Jays player to go deep three times in one game -- also representing the most recent three-homer onslaught by a big leaguer -- was Adam Lind on Sept. 29, 2009.
Buck became the third Blue Jays catcher to club three home runs as well. Darrin Fletcher launched a trio of blasts on Aug. 27, 2000 and Ernie Whitt did the same on Sept. 14, 1987. In the Majors, the last catcher to belt three bombs was Victor Martinez, who achieved the feat on July 16, 2004.
For Buck, it was quite a way to end a slump.
"I've been getting pitches to hit," Buck said, "and I've been fouling them straight back, straight back, and then swinging at the nasty pitches and missing the ones I should be hitting."
Buck did not miss them this time.
The veteran catcher began his assault on Oakland's pitchers in the third inning, when he drilled a 1-2 pitch from Justin Duchscherer deep to left field for a solo blast. An inning later, Buck crushed a 1-0 offering from reliever Jerry Blevins, sending the ball arcing high into the air above left, where it crashed into the seats in the second deck for a three-run shot.
Buck then outdid himself.
With one out in the sixth inning, and the Jays holding a 5-3 lead, Buck's bat met up with a 2-2 pitch from A's left-hander Craig Breslow. The baseball rocketed deep to center field, where it ricocheted off the windows of the restaurant high above the wall. As Buck headed around the bases, the stadium's ship horn sounded three times.
"That's pretty cool when you get to see something like that," Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero said with a smile. "Three home runs in one game, that's not something you see every day. Good for him. He deserves it. He's been working hard."
Prior to Buck's offensive outpouring, the catcher had managed only two hits -- a double on Monday and a single on April 20 -- with 12 strikeouts over a span of 33 at-bats. Home runs or not, Thursday's showing marked the first time this season that Buck collected more than two hits in one game.
With his season average down to .155, Buck decided that an early batting practice session was not the worst idea. Murphy has been working with the catcher on getting his front foot down earlier, allowing Buck to recognize pitches sooner. That was the goal of Thursday's workout on the field.
Standing well in front of the mound, Walton did his best to simulate game speed by throwing hard. Buck said it was better than hitting in the indoor batting cage.
"That session really helped me, I guess, kind of grasp when I need to start," Buck said. "It was as close to game-like as you can get."
When he stepped into the batter's box to face the A's, it looked more like a video game.
"That's what you dream of as a hitting coach," Gaston said, "that you work with a guy and he has a big night."
"I don't know when he's going to go to sleep tonight," the manager added. "I know I'd have a little celebration if I hit three home runs in a ballgame and drove in five runs. That's a pretty good night."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.