After historic feat, Hill looks to recycle success in '13
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Babe Ruth never did it. Neither Willie Mays nor Henry Aaron got it done. Barry Bonds didn't do it; neither did his dad, Bobby. Neither Ken Griffey Jr. nor Ken Sr. did it. Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are looking to make the first one happen.
Aaron Hill did it twice last season. In the space of 11 days.
Hitting for the cycle -- single, double, triple, homer -- is a rare, remarkable achievement.
"Wow," Hill said, his eyes reflecting amazement. "When you hear names like that ... it makes you realize how special it is. I haven't really reflected much on it. I don't even know how to respond when I'm asked about it."
Hill, Arizona's vastly underrated second baseman, broke through at home, at Chase Field, on June 18 in Interleague Play against the Mariners: single, triple and double against Hector Noesi, homer off Shawn Kelley.
On June 29 in Milwaukee, Hill doubled, singled and homered at the expense of Randy Wolf before completing the cycle with a triple off Livan Hernandez.
"What I remember from the first one," Hill said, "was kind of laughing at myself as I went up to hit needing the home run. I'd been in a situation earlier in the year where I just got too excited when I needed a double for a cycle. It actually happened four times, maybe five, where I needed one hit to do it.
"So I was telling myself, 'You're having a great game; just relax and look for something up.' [Kelley] got a changeup up, and I got it in the air to left center with good carry. Great feeling."
D-backs teammate Jason Kubel, who achieved a memorable cycle for the Twins in 2009 with a game-winning grand slam against the Angels, sensed Hill was destined to get it done.
"He needed the home run," Kubel said, "and I remembered thinking, he's going to do it. Hitting for a cycle is awesome."
Repeating the act 11 days later is doubly awesome.
"On the second one, in Milwaukee, I needed a triple to finish it," Hill said. "I tried to get out front and I hit it good to right-center. I thought [Nyjer] Morgan was going to run it down, but it fell, and I made it to third."
Mission incredible accomplished.
Hill was surprised to learn that one more cycle will tie him with Babe Herman (1930s) and Bob Meusel (1920s) for the all-time lead.
"As long as I can make it to third," Hill said, grinning, "I have a shot at another one."
Herman, in 1931 with the Brooklyn Robins, is the only other player with two in one season. Ten Hall of Famers, including Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and George Brett, had a pair of cycles.
The Rangers' Adrian Beltre is the only other active player with two cycles. Eric Chavez, signed by the D-backs after reviving his career (16 homers, .496 slugging) last year for the Yankees, owns a cycle from the 2000 season with the A's.
Hill hit for cycles at Redwood High School in his hometown of Visalia, Calif., and at Louisiana State University before becoming a first-round pick (No. 13 overall) by Toronto in 2003.
His brilliant 2012 season fell under the national radar as the defending National League West champion D-backs landed in third place with a .500 record, behind the World Series champion Giants and Dodgers.
"You like to do everything you can for your team," Hill said. "So it's hard to focus on individual stuff when your team doesn't have a good season.
"I'm really enthused about the talent we have this season. With Adam [Eaton] and [Martin] Prado setting up at the top, we have six guys who can be in any of the other spots. Eaton can fly, and Prado is one of the best two-hole hitters in the game. It's a very underrated lineup."
With his ability to flourish anywhere in the order, Hill gives D-backs manager Kirk Gibson flexibility.
The Yankees' Robinson Cano wasn't the only second baseman to finish sixth in his league in OPS (on-base plus slugging). Hill was sixth in the NL at .882, behind noted mashers Ryan Braun, Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Aramis Ramirez and David Wright.
In his age-30 season, Hill hit a career-high .302 with 44 doubles, six triples, 26 homers, 93 runs scored, 85 RBIs and 14 steals in 19 attempts. His on-base and slugging percentages of .360 and .522, respectively, also were career bests.
His 2012 Silver Slugger Award matched the one Hill earned in a 2009 breakout season when he homered 36 times in Toronto. He credits former Blue Jays hitting instructor Mickey Brantley with unlocking his power.
"I'd never hit a lot of homers, but when Mickey Brantley showed me how to load my hands, I was able to generate more power," Hill said. "I still considered myself a gap hitter, but now I was able to turn them into homers."
Hill's cycles were no flukes in the view of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.
"I saw this guy in Toronto, and he's really good," Roenicke said. "I was surprised when, in his last year in Toronto, he had a down year. I was surprised because when I saw him, he could really hit. He never missed a fastball. He's really quick inside. And now he's also staying back well enough [to] where he's also hitting off-speed pitches. But it doesn't surprise me -- this is a really good hitter."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.