Backman’s 6-for-6 game vivid in memory bank


In advance of the 51s opening their 32nd Pacific Coast League season here tonight, the team held its annual media day on Tuesday. Of the six or so media who showed up, four or so asked manager Wally Backman if the 51s would be good enough to return to the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

Backman said yeah, they were, at least on paper, at least before the phone starts ringing and it’s Mets GM Sandy Alderson, and he wants to start calling guys up again.

These same four media also asked Backman about Noah Seth Syndergaard, who stands 6 feet 6 inches, weighs 240 pounds, was born and raised in Texas, and throws a four-seam fastball around 95 mph on average.

Backman said the kid is legit. Syndergaard makes his Cashman Field debut on Friday night, which is Fireworks Night. He’ll be the big guy in the middle of the diamond, throwing Roman candles at the Fresno hitters.

Because it was April 1, one of the media asked Backman about the great April Fools’ jokes he had witnessed. He said he couldn’t really talk about them, inferring they were much too risque to repeat with those Girl Scouts selling their cookies next to the 51s dugout — another media day tradition — but that none involved Lenny Dykstra. Which some of us found surprising.

So somebody asked Backman about once getting six hits in a major league game, which doesn’t happen every day.

Since 1920, when they started playing the game with a real baseball instead of one made of mush, only 60 major league players have collected six hits in a nine-inning game — 33 in the American League, 27 in the National.

Wally Backman did it on April 27, 1990 while playing for the Pirates against the Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego.

“I do remember that game,” said Backman, who played second base with a fiery style for the Mets, but was playing third base for the Pirates when he went 6-for-6.

Backman singled to right leading off the game, singled to center in the third, doubled to left in the fourth (driving in Barry Bonds and Mike LaValliere), singled on the infield in the sixth, singled to left in the seventh. R.J. Reynolds was thrown out at home on that one, costing him another RBI.

Backman was 5-for-5. He was having himself a day, as the chatter guys in the dugout used to say.

But he thought that would be it.

“The one thing I remember is that Ted Power was the pitcher, pitching for us …” Backman said, and because the Pirates were so far ahead, 9-4 going into the ninth, Pirates manager Jim Leyland decided to let Power bat for himself.

Now, Ted Power was a pretty good pitcher, good enough to last in the big leagues for 13 seasons. But like most pitchers, he wasn’t a very good hitter; his lifetime batting average was .089.

Backman was in the on-deck circle when Power borrowed somebody’s bat. The two had a brief conversation. There were two outs in the Pittsburgh ninth.

Some guy named Rafael Valdez was pitching for San Diego, and this would be one of only three games he would pitch in the big leagues. But nobody knew that then, only that he probably was going to get Ted Power out.

“There were two outs in the ninth inning and I said to Teddy, ‘Teddy get a hit, I want to try to get six hits in one game,’ ” Backman said.

Lo and behold, Teddy got a hit. Power smacked a double to left field.

“By God, it was the only hit he got all year,” Backman said.

I thought maybe he was just saying that, to embellish the story after all these years. But I looked it up and Backman was right, that was Ted Power’s only hit of the season.

Wally Backman followed with a single to center. He was 6-for-6. Because it was early in the season, his batting average climbed 114 points, from .281 to .395.

So does the guy who goes 6-for-6 have to buy beers for his teammates?

Thankfully, no, Backman said, because this was years before the Red Sox would gorge themselves on fried chicken and beer and blow a nine-game lead in September, and you could still drink beer, for free, in the clubhouse.

Having said that, I think he still owes Ted Power one. Because had Power not hit that double, Wally Backman probably would have been answering another round of questions about Noah Syndergaard’s four-seamer, and how the 51s looked like a playoff contender again, at least on paper.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski