The thermometer was loaded with mercury, the heat index was in triple digits, the ball was flying at Nationals Park, and as everyone else was dragging from exhaustion, there was Trea Turner racing around the bases in the bottom of the sixth, chasing history.
Having already singled in the first, doubled in the third and homered in the fourth, here was Turner - on his 28th birthday - lining a ball over Manuel Margot’s head in right field and immediately deciding it was time to turn on the afterburners.
“I’m thinking triple out of the box,” Turner said later in his Zoom session with reporters. “And just hoping he doesn’t pick it up right away and get it in.”
He maxed out at 30.3 feet per second - that’s 20.7 mph - during his 270-foot trip from the plate to third base, his helmet flying off as he rounded second. And though the play was close, he slid in safely and began pounding the bag with his hand, fully aware of what he had just done. (Though, as it turns out, also fully aware he had jammed his left middle finger in the process.)
What Turner had done during the Nationals’ 15-6 victory over the Rays was hit for the cycle for the third time in his career, something only four others in major league history can claim to have done. Long John Reilly of the Reds was the first in 1890. Bob Meusel followed in 1928 for the Yankees. The Cubs’ Babe Herman joined them in 1933. And then many years later, in 2015, Adrián Beltré pulled it off the Rangers.
And now Turner stands alongside them, having hit for the cycle three times in the last 4 1/2 seasons, with a whole lot of career still in front of him to attempt to make it a record four times.
“I remember when Adrián Beltré did it a little while ago, I remember watching it and thinking it was pretty awesome that he’s tied for the lead with three,” he said. “Because you don’t picture him as a speed guy. But he was such a good hitter. He put the bat on the ball. He’s got 3,000 hits for a reason. So I think if you just have good at-bats and are locked in for a day, you can get lucky and get the four that you need. I don’t know if it’s much more than that. You’ve got to have good at-bats and you’ve got to get lucky, but I guess I’m blessed to have done it three times. And hopefully more of those to come.”
As for jamming his middle finger on third base during the slide, Turner admitted it’s “pretty sore,” and manager Davey Martinez said he’ll be “day-to-day” entering a big four-game weekend series against the Dodgers. The Nationals also saw Juan Soto and Jordy Mercer depart with cramps, Soto to his left hamstring and Mercer to his right quadriceps. Both appear to be fine, but they’ll be re-evaluated Thursday.
“The issue was it was such a long game,” Martinez said of the 3-hour, 37-minute affair. “For Mercer, who doesn’t play every day, he was on his feet for a long period of time. Soto running around all day, it’s tough. Hopefully tomorrow everybody’s good to go.”
There was plenty more offense from the Nationals on this scorching-hot late afternoon. Starlin Castro and Mercer both homered, with Castro adding a bases-loaded single during a four-RBI game. Soto hit three opposite-field singles. Josh Bell drove in three with a pair of early clutch singles. Kyle Schwarber batted six times and, in shocking fashion, did not hit a home run.
There was also an eventful day from a depleted Nats pitching staff, which saw Jon Lester gut out five innings of five-run ball yet still qualify for the win, then unheralded relievers Andres Machado, Ryne Harper, Kyle Lobstein and Kyle McGowin combine to finish it off and complete a two-game sweep of Tampa Bay.
But the center of attention, and rightfully so, was the birthday boy, who put on some kind of show for the 15,552 brave souls who withstood the heat and humidity to witness the Nats’ 14th win in 17 games and close out a 19-9 month of June on a high note.
“That was good to see on our side, for the good guys, for a change,” said Lester, who hadn’t ever watched a teammate hit for the cycle. “I really thought it was weird that he’s tied for the MLB lead with three. I figured there was some old-school player that had, like, 10 of them or something back in the day. That’s pretty cool. That’s awesome for him.”
There may be no modern player better built to hit for the cycle than Turner, who possesses a rare combination of speed, power and the ability to make contact when needed. So few were surprised when he achieved his first cycle on a bitterly cold night in 2017 at Coors Field in Denver, nor when he did it to the Rockies again on July 23, 2019, this time on a warm summer night in D.C.
But to do it a third time already? Well, the stars were aligned today for it to happen.
Turner’s first-inning single off Rays opener Drew Rasmussen was immediately followed by back-to-back stolen bases from the lightning-quick shortstop (the latter of them a double steal with Soto trailing him). Bell’s subsequent two-run double set the tone for the afternoon.
Turner’s third-inning double off lefty Ryan Sherriff, a rope down the left field line, was part of a four-run rally that included Castro’s two-run single to snap an 0-for-8 slump with the bases loaded.
Turner’s fourth-inning homer off Michael Wacha was a 400-foot blast to the opposite field, his third homer in four days. And with so much baseball still to be played, it became apparent he would get at least two more chances to bat and finish the deal with a triple.
“(Bench coach Tim Bogar) was talking to him, and I agreed: If the ball goes into the gap, you do not stop at second,” Martinez said. “Just keep on truckin’. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
No, it couldn’t. Facing Wacha again to lead off the sixth, Turner drove an outside pitch deep to right and past Margot’s extended reach. And the moment the ball touched the ground, there was no doubt he was going to go for it.
The Rays’ relay was close, but not close enough. The crowd roared with approval, as did the home dugout, as Turner soaked it all in, in spite of the pain he now felt in his finger. He delivered the fifth cycle in club history, a rare, quirky feat previously accomplished by Brad Wilkerson in 2005 and Cristian Guzman in 2008.
“I don’t know if there’s significance,” Turner said, still trying to downplay the feat. “I think it’s a good day at the plate.”
Yeah, but only four others have had as many good days at the plate in history as him.