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Colavito remembers his 4-home-run day June 10, 1959

By MARC BONA • Jun 10, 2018 at 8:00 AM

CLEVELAND — Before a game 59 years ago in Baltimore, a reporter was hanging around the batting cages when he sauntered up to Cleveland Indians slugger Rocky Colavito.

"I remember being 3-for-28 coming into that game," Colavito recalled from his home in Pennsylvania. "Harry Jones, the (Cleveland Plain Dealer) beat writer at the time, was around the batting cages. He says 'Hey Rock, when are you going to come out of this slump?' I said "What slump?' That's the truth. I would never admit to it. He said 'Oh, c'mon.' "I said 'You never know, it just might be tonight.' He accepted that."

Colavito didn't just come out of the slump. He blasted his way out, becoming the eighth Major Leaguer to hit four home runs in a game.

Only 18 players have done it — six in the American League, 12 in the National League. Like Colavito, all but three did it within nine innings. It's extraordinarily rare, occurring even fewer times than perfect games. After Colavito, the next American Leaguer to hit four home runs in one game was Mike Cameron in 2002.

Colavito was penciled in the clean-up spot for the game, played on a warm night in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. In Colavito's first at-bat in the first inning, he walked. Then the hitting barrage began.

Home Run No. 1

In the third, Colavito faced starter Jerry Walker with one on and one out, connected, and pulled a ball to deep left.

"I say I hit a fastball; someone tried to say it was a breaking ball," Colavito said. "I hit it well enough to be a home run. I stood right at home plate. I wanted to make sure it stayed fair. I knew it was a home run or foul; you couldn't tell in that ballpark."

In the bottom of the inning, Colavito took the field. Orioles centerfielder Albie Pearson smacked a line drive down the right-field line.

"I came running over and made the catch — decent, but nothing spectacular," he said. "As I caught it I was right on the foul line. A fan sitting in the stands threw a beer in my face. I was so livid someone would have the nerve to do that. I called him everything, I challenged him. We had an exchange."

Home Run No. 2

Arnie Portocarrero was on the mound in the fifth inning with no one on and one out.

"He was like what they call today a setup man," Colavito said. "He throws me a slider and — I'm not bragging, I hate braggards — but for someone who is 3 for 28 — it's on the outside part of the plate. And I hit this line drive over the left-field-center fence that kept climbing. I really hit it well."

Home Run No. 3

An inning later, Portocarrero was still on the mound for the Orioles. Colavito took him deep with a man on and two out.

"He throws me almost an identical pitch," he said. "Maybe he couldn't believe I hit a pitch like that for a home run; neither could I. Lo and behold I hit it again, only this time to left-center, more toward center. I think it was 385 feet. Also, anything that cleared a fence is 400 feet — a line drive, you know, when you hit a ball." (Colavito is correct: The left-field line was 309 feet, but center field was 410.)

Like a gladiator who wins over a crowd, Colavito felt a switch of allegiance on the road.

"So I go out to right field. This time I get a standing ovation from the people in the right-field bleachers — including this idiot who threw the beer in my face."

Home Run No. 4

Colavito's final at-bat came with no one on and one out in the ninth.

"Their ace reliever, Ernie Johnson, their closer, was in, and I heard later he was telling the guys in the bullpen 'I'll tell you how to take care of this guy, I'm going to get him out.' My roomie Herb Score is sitting on a ledge. I'm getting my bat, and he says 'C'mon, roomie, don't fool around and hit number four.' I said 'Roomie, I'm 3 for 28. If I get a single I'll be tickled to death. He said '(BS) go up there and do it.' I said 'Yeah, right,' and went on deck.

"First pitch was under my chin. He probably thought that up and in, low and outside — the old cliche. He throws the next pitch in the strike zone up and in, and I hit that ball as well as any of them, up in the (left-field) bleachers. I knew the second I hit it, it was a home run."

Aftermath

After the game — which also saw home runs by Indians Minnie Minoso and Billy Martin — the kid who caught the ball made his way to the clubhouse. Indians traveling secretary Harold "Spud" Goldstein swapped him $25 and two or three signed baseballs, said Colavito, who said players were required to sign baseballs before each game.

Colavito still has the ball. On it is inscribed "4th home run Beat Baltimore 11-8, June 10, 1959."

The win put the Indians at 27-24 (Cleveland finished 89-65, good for second behind the Chicago White Sox.) Colavito's line that day? He went 4 for 4 with four home runs, a walk, five runs scored with six RBIs. Tito Francona was in the game, going 2 for 5 with two runs scored. Gary Bell got the win.

Walker took the loss. It turned out to be Walker's best year, the only campaign in which he recorded double digits in victories. That same season, he became the youngest pitcher to start an All-Star game. He finished with the Indians in 1963-64 and moved on to a long career as a coach and front-office executive.

Portocarrero, whom Colavito victimized twice in the game, went to the same high school in New York as Manny Ramirez and Rod Carew, among other Major Leaguers.

Johnson became a longtime announcer. His son Ernie Johnson Jr. is a fixture in sports broadcasting, covering baseball and, of course, teaming with Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Smith on Inside the NBA on TNT.

One of the game's umpires would figure in another prominent albeit notorious night for Cleveland almost 15 years to the day later. Nestor Chylak was umpiring on June 4, 1974 between Texas and Cleveland. It was 10-cent beer night in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Chylak was at third base for both the drunken fiasco and Colavito's game.

Colavito's memory remains intact about that game 59 years ago, more so than some fans. Attendance that night was 15,883.

"Everyone says they were there," said Colavito, who will turn 85 on Aug. 10. "I never forget it. My youngest son (Steve), he never lets me forget it. He always calls me or sends me something.

"I have had people say 'I saw that game in Cleveland!' I tell them, 'Unless you can fly, you had to watch it on TV,’” he added. “It's funny how people remember something and they put them right where it was."

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