It became very clear very quickly that the 1971 season would be a special one for Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid's four-game homer streak to open a season was the first in MLB history. Later, Mays -- in his final full year as a Giant -- helped lead San Francisco to a National League West crown in an epic pennant race against the arch-rival Dodgers.
That pattern held true for St. Louis' Mark McGwire, who mashed a home run in each of his first four games in 1998. Of course, McGwire went on to shatter Roger Maris' 37-year-old, single-season home run mark by crushing 70 long balls in an epic pursuit of baseball's most storied record.
The 2011 regular season wasn't anything special for Nelson Cruz, aside from his becoming the third player to start the year with a four-game homer streak. But that was before he pieced together one of the most memorable postseasons of all time, including a record-tying eight playoff homers and two extra-inning shots in the American League Championship Series -- one a walk-off grand slam.
Who is next in line for a special year after an historically torrid start? Looks like it's Baltimore's Chris Davis, who has a chance to break the season-opening home run streak Saturday night against the Twins at 7:05 p.m. ET on MLB.tv.
Until Friday, Mays, McGwire and Cruz were the only players to begin a season with at least one home run in the first four games of a season. They each went on to accomplish big things later on that year.
Davis joined the trio of sluggers with his eighth-inning grand slam against Minnesota on Friday. He has the chance to eclipse the record with a dinger on Saturday night, when Vance Worley takes the hill for the Twins.
None of the previous three homered in their fifth contest. In fact, only Mays drove in a run that day -- he twice plated Bobby Bonds (with a first inning triple and a third inning double).
All three came down to earth relatively quickly after their four-game season-starting outbursts. Mays didn't homer for five more games, and McGwire didn't hit another for eight more games. Cruz went 1-for-his-next-7 before going deep in the second game of a doubleheader after a three-game homerless drought.
The key to sustaining any home run streak is the ability to work the ball to all fields and to drive all pitches. Once a player crushes a certain pitch in a certain location, it's very rare he'll see that same pitch again any time soon. Take a look at the home runs the lefty-swinging Davis has hit thus far:
- A fastball up and in that he pulled to deep right
- A fastball low and away that he drove to left-center
- A changeup that he waited on and drove to right-center
- A slider that he went with to the opposite field
Seem fitting? Take a look at the pitches Cruz (a right-handed hitter) saw:
- A fastball up and in that he lifted to left
- A knuckler that he waited on and crushed to dead-center
- A fastball down and away that he crushed opposite field to the upper deck in right-center
- A changeup that he drove to left-center
At 27, Davis is easily the youngest player to accomplish the feat, eclipsing Cruz, who was 30 in 2011. McGwire was 34 and Mays was 39.
Mays was the only one to hit all four of his long balls on the road. Davis hit three in Tampa Bay before he headed home for his opposite-field slam at Camden Yards on Friday. All four of McGwire's homers came at the old Busch Stadium, and all four of Cruz's came at Rangers Ballpark.
So how did these streaks end?
It was St. Louis' Reggie Cleveland, who held Mays homer-less in his fifth game of the season in 1971. Mays actually sat out of the club's fifth game, as it was the first of a double header, and he played the nightcap, going 2-for-4 with the two RBIs.
San Diego's Kevin Brown gave up a single and a pair of walks to McGwire, but nothing more as he struck out the righty slugger twice before McGwire grounded out against closer Trevor Hoffman to end the streak.
In 2011, Seattle's Michael Pineda, making his first big-league start, held Cruz hitless.
Eight days later, Texas slugger Josh Hamilton was placed on the disabled list with a fracture in his right arm. Fittingly, the Rangers called up none other than Davis, whom they would soon send to Baltimore in a trade.
Now it's Davis' turn to take center stage, eyeing a record five-straight games with a homer to start the season and hoping he can turn the hot start into a magical year -- the way Mays, McGwire and Cruz did before him.
AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.