WILFREDO LEE / AP Enlarge
MIAMI - Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 600th home run last night, completing his long ascent and becoming the sixth player in history to reach that milestone.
The Cincinnati outfielder homered off Florida lefty Mark Hendrickson in the first inning of the Reds' 9-4 victory against the Marlins. Griffey joined Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Sammy Sosa.
The 38-year-old homered with Jerry Hairston on third and one out.
The left-handed swinger launched a 3-1 pitch 413 feet into the right-field seats.
Griffey received a standing ovation from the crowd of 16,003 and responded by coming out of the Reds dugout and waving his helmet to the fans.
"I don't think I touched any of the bases. I sort of floated around," Griffey said.
Manager Dusty Baker has managed the last three players to achieve the milestone: Bonds in San Francisco, Sosa in Chicago, and now Griffey. He was there for Bonds' 600th, on Aug. 9, 2002.
"It's awesome every time you see a milestone like that," Baker said. "It doesn't take away from the others. It adds to it."
The game was the last one of an eight-game road trip for the Reds, who will return home tonight to play the St. Louis Cardinals.
Controversy ensued in the stands after the home run.
Justin Kimball, a 25-year-old from Miami, said he caught the home run ball, put it in a wool cap and then had the cap ripped from his hands. Kimball said someone ran off with the ball.
Police said they had found the fan with the baseball and would look at video tape to see if Kimball's claims could be supported.
However, the Florida Marlins announced Major League Baseball had authenticated the home run ball for a middle-aged male fan who would only give his first name as Joe.
Griffey ended the game 1-for-4 with a strikeout and an intentional walk. He exited in the middle of the eighth.
He hasn't enjoyed many golden moments since the Reds got him from Seattle in 2000.
This will rank as one of his best with Cincinnati and, possibly, one of his last, given that he's in the final year of his contract.
It was a long time coming.
Griffey, one of baseball's most prolific sluggers before injuries began to take their toll, started the season with 593 home runs.
It took 216 at-bats to make history - his previous homer came May 31.
Griffey hit No. 597 on April 23 at Great American Ball Park, then went 90 at-bats - the second-longest drought of his career - before connecting again in San Diego on May 22.
He went another 29 at-bats, and even got a day off during the week to work on his swing, before hitting No. 599.
Griffey went 17 at-bats between that homer and No. 600.
"I've been swinging the bat a lot better the last 10 days or so," Griffey said.
"I was able to get the ball in the air. I wasn't beating the ball into the ground like I had been."
Like his 400th and 500th, this home run came on the road.
Unlike Bonds and Sosa, Griffey has stayed clear of questions about whether he came by all of his homers legitimately. His name has never come up in baseball's steroids scandal. Unlike Sosa, he's never been caught using a doctored bat.
Although Junior is linked numerically with Hammerin' Hank and the Babe, he has never been defined by the home run.
His game is so well-rounded that he was voted an All-Century outfielder with Seattle before his 30th birthday.
By then, his backward cap and light-up smile were the face of baseball.
Griffey was the youngest player in the majors - still only 19 - on April 10, 1989, when he homered off the Chicago White Sox's Eric King on the first pitch he saw at Seattle's Kingdome.25.72898 -80.23742