Kevin Smith wanted the third home run, something he had never done in a game as a pro. But leading off the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing by two, he knew the right play was to just put the ball in play. As it turned out, that
Kevin Smith wanted the third home run, something he had never done in a game as a pro. But leading off the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing by two, he knew the right play was to just put the ball in play. As it turned out, that approach placed him in the Triple-A Las Vegas history books anyway.
The 26-year-old poked a 1-2 pitch from Nick Ramirez through the shifted infield into center field for a single, completing the ninth cycle in Aviators history. Smith finished a perfect 5-for-5 with five runs scored, three RBIs and the pair of long balls in Las Vegas’ 12-11 loss to Tacoma on Saturday.
“You want those games to last as long as they can,” Smith said. “You just hope you can get some good pitches and put good swings on the ball. The guys were battling all game, obviously I wish we pulled it out, but overall the guys were excited.”
Smith connected on a two-run homer in the second inning, doubled in the third, homered again in the fifth and tripled -- his first in the Minors this year -- in the seventh. But after the Rainiers went in front with a four-run eighth inning, his mindset shifted from a personal milestone to the team’s task at hand.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position to hit for the cycle before, so it was all new to me,” Smith said. “I was just trying to get on base and start something for the boys. Especially in a close game like that, everyone is talking about [the cycle] and it’s on your mind, but you’re just trying to get into scoring position so we could make something happen.”
Smith’s evening set the Las Vegas single-game total bases record (14) and he became the first player to notch a cycle for the franchise since Jarrett Hoffpauir, who remarkably did it twice in 2010, when the team was known as the 51s.
While the multhomer game wasn’t exactly notable in the context of Smith’s entire career -- he had done it three times before, most recently on June 15, 2021 -- it represented a seismic shift in his power output this September after going homerless from May 18 through Aug. 19, a span of 67 games. He went yard twice in a span of three games at the end of that month and has now homered five times in his last eight games.
“I’ve been using the ground better and getting into better positions,” Smith said. “Most of the year, I just felt like I was missing pitches early [in the count] that I should’ve been hitting and getting myself into bad spots. I feel like I’m finally putting good swings on the ball and getting barrels early in the count on pitches that I can do damage with.”
In 15 games this month, Smith is batting .371 with a 1.151 OPS, which both rank in the top ten among qualified Triple-A players in that span.
It’s the culmination of a whirlwind season for the infielder, which began with the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2017. After the MLB lockout ended in March, he was traded to Oakland with three other players for All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman and made the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. After 47 games in the Majors, Smith’s longest run at the top level to date, he was sent down to Las Vegas.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Smith said. “I haven’t played as well as I know I can play, but to make a run in September like this, feeling like yourself again, it’s going to be huge going into next year.”
Jacob Resnick is a contributor for MiLB.com.