John Mabry

May 18, 1996: John Mabry hits for the cycle

Despite his prior success at Coors Field, John Mabry was an unlikely candidate to hit for the cycle heading into the Cardinals’ May 19, 1996, game against the Rockies.

In his rookie campaign in 1995, Mabry tied for fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting after batting .307 with five homers and 41 RBIs. That performance included 12 hits in 23 at-bats at Coors Field, but also included just one triple in 418 plate appearances.

On this day, however, he collected the second triple and the seventh home run of his career on his way to hitting for the cycle. Unfortunately, his historic accomplishment came the same night that the Rockies rallied for a five-run ninth inning to beat the Cardinals, 9-8.

“This is a really strange feeling,” Mabry said. “You’ve got to win the game. That’s all I know.”[1]

Mabry’s day began with a single up the middle against Colorado’s Marvin Freeman, a 6-foot-7 veteran right-hander who placed fourth in the Cy Young Award voting in 1994 but was now in the final season of his major-league career.

After Gary Gaetti hit a solo home run to lead off the fourth, Mabry followed with a ground-ball double down the right-field line, but was stranded at third base.

Mabry was part of a four-run rally in the fifth. After Brian Jordan drew a one-out walk, Ray Lankford homered to left field. Gaetti drew a walk before Mabry tripled over the head of Rockies center fielder Larry Walker, scoring Gaetti. Tom Pagnozzi scored Mabry with an RBI single that gave St. Louis a 5-1 lead.

Walker and Jeff Reed each homered in the sixth to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 5-3, but Mabry answered in the seventh with a two-run homer off left-handed reliever Mike Munoz to become the 212th player in major-league history to hit the cycle. It also made him the 15th Cardinal to accomplish the feat and the first since Lankford did it in 1991.[2]

After the game, he said he was unaware of the potential cycle until his teammates congratulated him.

“I thought they were just congratulating me for the home run,” he said.[3]

Lankford said, “If it had been brought to his attention, it probably would have messed him up, but he was able to go up there relaxed in the seventh and he was just trying to make contact. Fortunately, he hit it out of the ballpark.”[4]

When Mabry came to the plate with Lankford on third base in the top of the ninth, Rockies pitcher John Habyan intentionally walked him. Lankford later scored when Habyan threw a wild pitch that got past Reed, giving the Cardinals an 8-4 lead.

The Rockies, however, would erase that deficit in the bottom of the ninth, as Ellis Burks hit a two-run homer and John Vander Wal hit a walk-off, three-run homer off Dennis Eckersley to win the game, 9-8.

“I didn’t have anything tonight,” Eckersley said. “I couldn’t make a pitch and you’ve got no time to find it. It was unbelievable.”[5]

One day later, Eckersley returned to St. Louis to have an MRI exam on his right elbow.[6]

“How can we not be in here celebrating John Mabry’s cycle?” asked Tony La Russa. “But nobody feels worse than Eckersley.”[7]

The loss dropped the Cardinals to a 17-25 record and the bottom of the National League East Division. Two days later, however, the Cardinals began a five-game win streak that marked the beginning of their resurrection. Led by Jordan, Lankford, and Ron Gant, the Cardinals battled back. An eight-game win streak between August 30 and September 7 catapulted the club into the NL East lead, and by season’s end, the Cardinals led the division by six games with an 88-74 record.

Mabry hit .297 in 1996 with a career-high 13 homers and 74 RBIs. He played with the Cardinals through the 1998 season, then signed with Seattle. In 2001, he briefly returned to St. Louis, appearing in five games before the Cardinals traded him to the Marlins. In 2004, Mabry again signed with the Cardinals and played two more seasons in St. Louis. His 14-year career included eight years in St. Louis. He hit .281 with 53 homers and 272 RBIs while wearing the birds on the bat.

After his playing career ended, Mabry spent one season as an analyst on Cardinals’ pre- and post-game shows for Fox Sports Midwest. In 2012, Mabry was named the Cardinals’ assistant hitting coach under Mark McGwire, then was promoted to hitting coach after McGwire took the same position with the Dodgers. Mabry served as the Cardinals’ hitting coach until July 2018. In 2020, he joined the Royals’ coaching staff.

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[1] Rick Hummel, “Mabry Goes For A Ride On The Cycle,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 19, 1996.

[2] “Eck, Cards lose again to Rockies,” Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, May 19, 1996.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Mabry Goes For A Ride On The Cycle,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 19, 1996.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Mabry Goes For A Ride On The Cycle,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 19, 1996.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Stunned Cardinals Are Victims In Another Rockies’ Horror Show,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 19, 1996.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Turns Out, Eckersley’s Sore Because Of Elbow, Not Ump,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 20, 1996.

[7] [7] Rick Hummel, “Stunned Cardinals Are Victims In Another Rockies’ Horror Show,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 19, 1996.

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