Junior achievement: 500 career home runs

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 21, 2004

ST. LOUIS - Ken Griffey Jr. joined the 500-homer club - finally.

A week after his last home run, he ended the frustrating stretch with one big swing in Cincinnati's 6-0 victory over St. Louis on Sunday. He's the 20th player to hit 500 homers and at 34, the sixth youngest to reach the milestone.

''I just told him, 'About time,''' teammate Barry Larkin said.

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Before depositing a 2-2 fastball from Matt Morris in the right-field stands, Griffey was 5-for-21 with four RBIs in six games since homering last Sunday against Cleveland. He hadn't come close to the fences before hitting his 19th homer of the season, a drive estimated at 393 feet.

But he insisted that the wait for 500 wasn't all that trying because his family accompanied him to St. Louis after he came up empty in three games in Cincinnati.

''I know it's been tough for you guys, because you guys have been running out of things to talk about,'' Griffey said. ''Usually during the season they leave me alone and I can concentrate on baseball.

''This time it's like, 'Hey, we're still here and we're going to hang out with you until you do it, and we're going to support you, and if we have to travel the rest of the year we're going to do it.' That's what helped, they were there watching.''

After getting mobbed by teammates, Griffey made a beeline to his family's seats adjacent to the Reds' dugout and hugged his father and children. He has a knack for honoring his father, who hit 152 homers in his career, homering four times on Father's Day and eight times on his dad's birthday.

''That's the last thing my mother said as I was leaving, she said, 'You're going to do it today. You hit home runs on your dad's birthday and today you're going to hit a home run,''' Griffey said. ''When I hit it, my first reaction was that my mom is always right.

''And get around the bases.''

Ken Griffey Sr. joked that the homer would not suffice for a Father's Day present.

''It's an easy way to get out of giving me something,'' Griffey Sr. said. ''He used to do that for me for my birthday all the time. He'd hit one and call me, 'Happy birthday Dad, I hit a home run.'

''He's got to get something else now.''

Griffey, the first to reach 500 in a Cincinnati uniform, got a warm ovation from a sellout crowd of 45,620 on Lou Brock bobblehead day. He then received a standing ovation as he ran out to the field before the bottom of the sixth, responding with a wave of his cap.

''Under those circumstances, it wasn't like it was a game winner,'' Cardinals right fielder Reggie Sanders said. ''They were already up 5-0. But they would do it whatever the circumstances were because they appreciated it.''

The ball was caught by 19-year-old Mark Crummley of Mount Carmel, Ill., who gave it back to Griffey after the game. Griffey gave Crummley the jersey off his back and a large shopping bag filled with other memorabilia.

''It didn't seem right to try to plea bargain with him over his baseball,'' said Crummley, a student at Southern Illinois. ''It means a lot more to him than me, so I just gave it back to him.''

Ken Griffey Sr. has the ball from his son's 400th homer, but Junior said he's keeping No. 500.

Jung Keun Bong (1-1) allowed three hits in six scoreless innings and three relievers finished a combined four-hit shutout to end the Reds' nine-game road losing streak. The slump was the Reds' longest since they dropped 10 in a row in 1998.

The Reds, who got a three-run homer from Jason LaRue in the fourth, also averted a three-game sweep and ended the Cardinals' six-game winning streak.

Jimmie Foxx was the youngest player to hit 500 homers, reaching the milestone at 32. Willie Mays, Sammy Sosa, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth also hit theirs at 34.

Griffey was the fastest to 350, 400 and 450 before being slowed by injuries the last three seasons. From 2001-03, he played in only 234 games and hit 43 homers.

Three other active players have hit 500 homers. Barry Bonds is third on the career list with 676, Sosa has 549 and Rafael Palmeiro 538. Fred McGriff needs seven to reach 500.

Griffey hit a pair of high fly balls in his first two at-bats. He flied out to center near the warning track leading off the second, and hit a sacrifice fly to center to drive in the first run in the Reds' five-run fourth against Morris.

He finished 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and two RBIs.

Morris (7-6) gave up six runs on six hits in six innings. He has allowed a major league-high 23 homers in 15 starts and wasn't overly perturbed about being a footnote to history.

''I stayed away with breaking balls until on a 2-2 count I tried to slip a fastball by him,'' Morris said. ''I guess people have been doing that 500 times, and it didn't work.''