History was made on May 23, 2002, a Thursday afternoon getaway day at Miller Park. When the dust settled from a 16-3 Dodgers blowout of the Brewers, right fielder Shawn Green had produced a box score line for the ages: 6-for-6 with a modern record-tying six runs scored, a record-tying four homers, a record-tying five extra-base hits, seven RBIs and a record-setting 19 total bases.
• The best games by 1 batter for every club
There had been little warning. After setting the Dodgers' single-season home run record the year before, Green was off to a slow start. Home fans were booing and media criticism was intensifying.
“The only difference this year is what I did last year, and the numbers are going to come once my swing is right,” Green told the Los Angeles Times at the height of his struggles. “But I can’t try to rush it and focus on the external expectations. That’s not going to help anything.”
Given a day off on May 18, Green set to work on that swing, as he described in his 2011 book, “The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph.” He took batting practice until the point of exhaustion, looking to take his mind out of the equation and let his body do the work. A blister formed on his hand from all the hacks. The results quickly followed.
After homering twice in the May 21 opener at Milwaukee and tripling the next night, things escalated in the series finale. Green lined an RBI double in the first inning, smacked a three-run homer in the second, followed that with solo shots in the fourth and fifth, squared up a single in the eighth and finally blasted a long solo homer with two outs in the ninth.
“The ball had been looking like a ping-pong ball,” Green said afterward. “Today, it probably looked like a softball. It slowed down a lot. The last six weeks, the ball seemed to be going fast, and I was having a tough time, jumping at pitches. Today, I was able to sit back and wait for it.”
Without a doubt, Green had just enjoyed one of the greatest games by a position player in MLB history. But was it the greatest? How do you even determine that? It’s hardly a simple question.
For pitchers, things are perhaps a bit more straightforward. There are perfect games, of course. And there is game score, which condenses performance into a single number, showing that Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout one-hitter from 1998 is the best nine-inning outing of all-time.
No such number exists on the other side of the ball, and “best” could be defined in a variety of ways.
The context-dependent approach: The Reds’ Art Shamsky holds the single-game record for a position player in win probability added, for coming off the bench to hit three game-tying or go-ahead homers late in a wild loss to the Pirates in 1966.