When Andrew Stevenson’s fly ball got past the Mets leftfielder in the first game of the Sept. 26, 2020, double-header, the result was an inside-the-park home run, the least common hit in modern baseball. What made Stevenson’s race around the bases even more unusual was what had happened in his previous at-bat: He had hit a conventional home run to deep right-center.
Thus, the left-hand batting Stevenson became the first Washington National to hit one homer out of the park and one inside the park in the same game. The last player for any of Washington’s three teams to do so was two-time All-Star Buddy Lewis on August 12, 1941. The last Expo, in the Nationals’ earlier incarnation, to do it was third-baseman Sean Berry on August 22, 1993.
In the last 50 years of the 20th Century, just 975 of the nearly 150,000 home runs hit didn’t leave the ballpark. With the massive increase in home runs since 2000, the incidence of inside-the-park homers has become even more rare.
Both of Stevenson’s homers came with the bases empty against Mets’ ace Jacob deGrom. The first homer extended Stevenson’s hitting streak to 10 games. He upped it to 11 straight with a bunt single in the second game of the Saturday doubleheader, which Washington swept. (Two doubles in 2020’s finale made it 12 games in a row.)
As is most often the case with inside-the-park homers, including those by Berry and Lewis, Stevenson’s was hit to the opposite field and involved a risky play by an outfielder. Dom Smith, normally a first-baseman, was in left for the Mets. After a long run, he couldn’t reach Stevenson’s long fly ball and then, not realizing how close he was, slammed face-first into the left-field wall at Nationals Park. Stunned, Smith fell flat as the ball rolled away. With the center fielder shading Stevenson to pull, it was left to Mets shortstop Amed Rosario to retrieve the ball and check on Smith’s condition as Stevenson rounded the bases and scored without a play. As soon as Smith fell, Nats TV broadcaster Bob Carpenter told viewers it would be an inside-the-park homer.
In 1941, Lewis hit his inside- and outside-the-park homers at Shibe Park in Philadelphia in a 9-2 victory over the Athletics. He hit one out to deep right with a man on in the top of the first off right-hander Les McCrabb. The A’s tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the first, but the Senators knocked McCrabb out in the second. Bill Beckman, another righty, faced Lewis with two runners on. Lewis hit what Shirley Povich of the Washington Post described as “a lazy fly that dropped just inside the left-field foul line.” Once the A’s left fielder, Bob Johnson, overran the ball, it rolled untouched until Lewis had rounded the bases for his inside-the-parker.
The homer was his ninth and last of the season. Never a power hitter – nobody who played half their games in cavernous Griffith Stadium could be in those days — his career high was 12.
After the ’41 season, Lewis entered the service before Pearl Harbor was attacked. He became a pilot in the Army Air Corps and flew C-47 transports on 369 missions in Asia. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and was discharged in July 1945. He returned immediately to the Senators, and his .333 batting average helped the team finish 1.5 games behind the first-place Tigers in A.L. He ended his career with a .297 average. Lewis died at age 94 in 2011.
Berry played most of the games at third base for the Montreal Expos in 1993,’94 and ’95. He was the regular third baseman on the ’94 team that well ahead in the N.L. East when the players’ strike ended the season in early August. But it was at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium in 1993 when he hit one out and hit his inside-the-park homer. Berry drove in six runs in the Expos’ 7-2 win. Both homers came off Reds right-hander Bobby Ayala. With two outs and two on in the fourth, Berry dumped an 0-2 split fingered fastball down the right-field line. According to the Cincinnati Post account, “Reggie Sanders, just back in the lineup on Friday after turning his right ankle, took a chance on the ball, and it skipped past him into the corner” as Berry rounded the bases in the sixth. He scored standing up.
Berry knocked in his sixth run later with a sacrifice fly. He was never a big power hitter. His season high –17– came after he left the Expos.
So, like many inside-the-park homers, the ones by Lewis and Berry, played conservatively, could have been held to singles or at most, doubles. Stevenson’s, hit harder than those two, might have been caught by a more experienced outfielder, but probably was at least a double or triple and less likely to be scored as an error on anybody.
In the believe-it-or-not department, several players — most of them in the dead-ball era — have hit two inside-the-park home runs in a game. The last to do it was Greg Gagne, the Twins shortstop who accomplished this rare feat on Oct. 4, 1986. Both homers came off White Sox starter Floyd Bannister in the Twins’ 161st game of the season. Gagne later had a third hit in that game: a triple. All three of those hits came at the expense of Sox’ center-fielder Daryl Boston, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Boston lost sight of the fly that became the first inside-the-park homer against the roof of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The ball landed far behind him. The second homer and the triple came on short flies that fell in front of Boston and bounced high over his head on the dome’s artificial turf.
The only other man to hit two inside-the-park homers in the past 70 years was White Sox slugger Dick Allen on July 31, 1972, also against the Twins in Minnesota. Allen’s first one was a liner that knuckled away from Twins center-fielder Bob Darwin and rolled to the fence. Later, Darwin tried for a diving catch of a long drive by Allen, but couldn’t reach it as Allen rounded the bases a second time.
Nobody else has hit two inside-the-park homers in a game in either either league since 1950.
On August 27, 1977, Toby Harrah (the last former Senator to retire) and Bump Wells hit back-to-back inside-the-park homers for the Texas Rangers. Willie Wilson of the Royals had an amazing 13 inside-the-park home runs in his career, the most of any player in the past 70 years.