Fernando Tatis is a retired baseball player who had, at most, a modestly successful career. He was drafted by the Rangers, but only played 155 games with the team, instead becoming a journeyman that also had playing time with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, and the extinct Montreal Expos.
He retired in 2010 with 113 homeruns, 448 RBIs, a career OPS+ of 101, and a career 6.3 WAR (or less than Mike Trout had last year alone). Baseball Reference counts Tatis' career earnings at a very respectable $17 million, so he was no scrub whatsoever. Still, Fernando Tatis was mostly a forgettable major leaguer, except for a fateful night on April 23, 1999.
At the height of baseball's Steroid Era, hitting homers was hardly a novelty or a feat, as what once seemed like unreachable records were being surpassed seemingly every day. However, Tatis was able to secure his place in baseball history by achieving something that had never been done before, and that probably will never happen again.
He hit two grand slams. In the same inning. Against the same pitcher.
As surreal as those sentences seem, there is plenty of evidence that this actually happened. But even as we can replay it forever, over and over again, it is still hard to believe that someone was able to complete such an endeavor – a middling player, to boot.
Taking a trip down memory lane and onto that fateful box score, the circumstances remain as perplexing as they were that evening. That night's starter, Chan Ho Park, was making his fourth start of the season. He had allowed a total of 3 homeruns over 17 innings by that point in the season, and prior to that point in his career, he had only served up only one grand slam (to Arizona's Travis Lee just 11 days before). In fact, Park would finish his career with 230 homeruns in his ledger, and only 7 of them were hit with the bases loaded.
On the other hand, Tatis came into the game with only 23 career homers, though he had never even hit a grand slam. His biggest output had only come via a couple of three-run homers, and he had only managed to have a multi-homer game only once before. The odds of what would happen next (that Tatis would hit more than one homer in a game, including a grand slam against a pitcher that was not all that prone to allowing them), were astronomical, but then again baseball tends to defy the odds.
The game took place in Dodger Stadium, which is known mostly as a pitcher's park. By the third inning, Los Angeles Dodgers had taken a 2-0 lead, but entering the third inning the Cardinals had a chance to produce, with the top of the order coming to bat. Darren Bragg hit a single, followed by Edgar Renteria getting hit by a pitch, and Mark McGwire hitting another single to load the bases. That gave way to cleanup hitter Fernando Tatis (he would end his career with only 19 homers when batting fourth in the order), who clobbered a 2-0 pitch deep to left field. The Cardinals had a 4-2 lead, but that´s when the fun really began.
Park seemed to recover by retiring J.D. Drew, but Eli Marrero hit the second homer of the inning, followed by consecutive to the 7 and 8-hitters, who advanced on an attempted sac bunt by pitcher Jose Jimenez, but an unsuccessful fielder's choice led to the bases being loaded again. Bragg reached on an error, and then Renteria hit another single to score a run. McGwire, still with the bags full, flied out meekly to right, leaving the door open for Tatis to make history. Undeterred, Park went after the hitter, who worked a 3-2 count before getting a hanging slider that was sent deep to left-center and cementing Tatis' place in the record books.
Park was then mercifully removed from the game, which the Cardinals went on to easily win 12-5, with Tatis going 0 for 2 for the rest of the contest. He would finish the season with a career-high 34 homers and 107 RBI. As for Park, the rest of 1999 went as poorly as that third inning, with him allowing a career-worst 31 dingers to go along a ghastly 5.23 ERA. At least he can take solace in the fact that his career earnings were 5 times bigger than Tatis'.
Baseball takes pride on having a long list of unbreakable records, from Cy Young's wins to Pete Rose's hits and Joe DiMaggio's 56 games with a hit. But even as the most sacred records are manned mostly by legendary players, the randomness that can emerge in a single game has produced a number of lone-game records that belong to players that are only remembered after a little research.
Still, Tatis' feat takes the prize as the most unlikely. The whole sequence of the inning is hard to understand, especially the fact that he was able to get to the plate with 3 teammates aboard despite the base hits that were hit before him with a man on second. Also, the notion of Park not being removed despite the clobbering he was getting is also noteworthy.
There have been 12 other players who also hit two grand slams in a game, and 15 unassisted triple plays, 23 perfect games, and 5 times where the pitcher struck out 20 batters in a 9-inning game. Still, it is safe to say we will never again see a hitter clubbing two grand slams, in the same inning, against the same pitcher.