Hitting for the cycle has always been one of the more singular batting feats in baseball. It is a relatively rare occurrence but not one that guarantees anything in particular for the team of the player who achieves one beyond a mention on the sports page. Granted, it involves getting four hits (a good thing) with three being for extra bases (a very good thing), but from a pure baseball perspective one could propose that if a batter had four singles in a game, he might well provide a greater benefit to his team than a cycle would, provided those singles occur with runners in scoring position.
In other words, a cycle is a feat we regard with admiration primarily because it is COOL. It is so COOL that it even has a more refined version, the so-called “natural” cycle (single, double, triple, home run in order). This unique quality allows a cycle to actually transcend the game itself, remaining COOL even if your team loses the game in which it occurs, kind of like a consolation prize.
At this point in baseball history, only two teams remain cycle-less: the San Diego Padres (who also hold the distinction of being the only franchise not to have recorded a no-hitter) and the Miami Marlins whose relative youth as a franchise functions as something of an excuse. By way of contrast, the Red Sox have pulled off the feat an impressive twenty times.
Seven Mets had achieved the cycle prior to the day in July, 2004 when Eric Valent got one of his infrequent starts, spelling regular left fielder Cliff Floyd in a game against the Montreal Expos. Valent was a 27 year-old outfielder/first baseman who had been a late first round draft pick by the Phillies in 1998. After a couple of uneventful cups of coffee with the Phils, he was dealt to the Reds for catcher and future Met Kelly Stinnett in August of 2003. That winter, he was left off the Reds’ 40 man roster and was selected by the Mets in the Rule 5 Draft.
The Mets timing was fortuitous, as Valent was about to turn 27, the apparent “magic” age for certain players when whatever baseball skills they possess coalesce long enough to produce some evidence to support their place on a major league team. The 2004 season would mark Eric’s high water mark as a player as he produced a respectable .267/.337/.481 slash line in 270 AB’s spread out over 130 games. He would hit all of his big league homers that season, including one that day in Montreal.
Facing Expos starter Rocky Biddle, Valent collected a single in the second inning and a double in the third. He then homered off reliever Sunny Kim, launching a shot that clanked off one of the speakers suspended from the roof of Olympic Stadium. That left him a triple short of achieving a cycle, generally regarded as the toughie of the bunch.
When he came to the plate in the top of the seventh, the Mets had opened a substantial lead in what would end up a 10-1 win for Al Leiter. Consequently, a discussion on going for a three-bagger had preceded his next plate appearance. Mets coach Don Baylor had told Valent to expect third base coach Matt Galante to be “waving” him on anything hit down the line or in the gap.
When his subsequent at-bat produced a liner into the right field corner, “I just kept going when I hit it” Valent would say after the game
“When I hit the ball in the corner like that, I knew I was going to third. I just wanted to hit the ball hard. It was cool. There aren’t a lot of guys that can say they hit for the cycle, no matter how long they play. It’s a lot of luck.”
By virtue of that statement to MLB.com, we can trace an awareness of the cycle’s aforementioned “coolness factor” to the players themselves.
Of the ten Mets who have hit for the cycle (the most recent being Scott Hairston on April 27th of last year), Valent could be said to tie with infielder Mike Phillips of the 1975 team for “least likely.” After a few more desultory appearances with the Mets the following season, he was out of baseball, but in the record books. That moment of his career at least, was pretty cool.
Mets Who Have Hit For The Cycle
April 27, 2012, Scott Hairston at Colorado
June 21, 2006, Jose Reyes vs. Cincinnati
July 29, 2004, Eric Valent at Montreal
Sept. 11, 1997, John Olerud vs. Montreal
July 3, 1996, Alex Ochoa at Philadelphia
Aug. 1, 1989, Kevin McReynolds at St. Louis
July 4, 1985, Keith Hernandez at Atlanta (19 innings)
June 25, 1976, Mike Phillips at Chicago
July 6, 1970, Tommie Agee vs. St. Louis
Aug. 7, 1963, Jim Hickman vs. St. Louis