June 30, 2021: Trea Turner hits for his third career cycle as Nationals hit high-water mark for 2021

This article was written by Laura H. Peebles

Trea Turner (TRADING CARD DB)The Washington Nationals were on a roll as June 2021 ended. For the first time all season, they were above .500 (39-38). They were in second place in the National League East, 3½ games behind the New York Mets.

They had been last in the division (21-29) at the end of May, but a historic power surge from Kyle Schwarber1 and a turnaround from Josh Bell2 – both of whom had joined the Nationals in offseason 2020-21 transactions – had propelled them upward. Based on recent events, Washington could hope that even more thrills were ahead; two seasons earlier, in 2019, the Nationals had won only 19 of their first 50 games but then ignited and captured the World Series title.

Shortstop Trea Turner had done his part in 2021’s resurgence. In his seventh season with the Nationals, Turner’s .310 batting average was the best among the regular starters, and he shared the NL lead for stolen bases with 16.

The Tampa Bay Rays (47-33) were in town for an interleague series over the final two days of June. American League pennant-winners during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Rays, like the Nationals, were in second place in their division in 2021, only two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.

The 15,552 fans who showed up at Nationals Park for the series’ second game, a 4:05 start on a Wednesday afternoon, witnessed something that had happened only four times before in major-league history – a player hit for the cycle for the third time in his career. And the player was Turner, celebrating his 28th birthday with what turned out to be one of the last hurrahs of his Washington tenure.

Jon Lester (1-3, 4.99 ERA) was pitching for the Nationals. Like Schwarber and Bell, the 37-year-old left-hander came to Washington during the previous offseason. He had lasted only 2⅓ innings in his last outing, on June 25, allowing seven runs and taking the loss against the Miami Marlins. A June start in Tampa was a little more successful, when Lester gave up only one run in 3⅔ innings before leaving with his pitch count at 91.

The game-time temperature was 95 degrees, with a heat index of 103, and Lester sweated profusely during pregame warmups. The Rays jumped on him for two quick runs. Manuel Margot led off with a single, stole second, took third on catcher Yan Gomes’s bad throw, and scored on Randy Arozarena’s sacrifice fly. One out later, Yandy Díaz hit a solo homer that landed three rows short of the concourse in left for a 2-0 Tampa lead.

Drew Rasmussen (0-1, 3.48 ERA) was the opener for the Rays. This was his fourth appearance for Tampa Bay and his first career start.3 Turner began the Nationals’ first-inning rally – and his own big day – with a one-out single over second baseman Mike Brosseau’s head; he then swiped second, his NL-leading 17th steal of the season. Juan Soto walked for the 48th time.4 With Bell batting, Turner and Soto executed a double steal without drawing a throw. Bell singled right over the mound, scoring two to tie the game.

Lester continued to struggle in the second and third. The Rays loaded the bases with two outs in the second on two singles – including Rasmussen’s first major-league hit – and a walk. But Arozarena’s popout stranded the runners. Tampa Bay retook the lead in the third when Mike Zunino followed Wander Franco’s single with a home run that curled around the left-field foul pole, giving them a 4-2 lead.

Rasmussen had worked a clean second on only six pitches, but the Nationals struck back in the third against the Rays’ bullpen. The new pitcher was Ryan Sherriff, just called up from the minors. He hit Schwarber with a pitch with one out. Turner doubled into left, sending Schwarber to third. Soto’s seeing-eye single between the drawn-in infielders scored Schwarber. Bell’s single tied the game, 4-4.

Rays manager Kevin Cash dipped into his bullpen for Andrew Kittredge, whom Gomes greeted with a single. Starlin Castro hit a grounder right to the second baseman’s position – except that the Rays had shifted, so no one was there. The ball rolled unimpeded into center, allowing two runs to score to cap the four-run rally for a 6-4 Nationals lead.

Lester opened the top of the fourth by walking Brosseau, who stole second and scored on Arozarena’s single, making it a 6-5 game.

Michael Wacha, originally announced as the Rays starter, finally took the mound in the fourth. The veteran right-hander retired the first two batters he faced, but Turner’s home run into the stands in center – his third hit of the game – gave the Nationals their two-run lead back.

Now that Turner had three-quarters of the cycle, fans began to wonder if a third career cycle – following previous cycles in 2017 and 2019 – was possible. His first cycle5 had started in the same sequence: single, double, homer, completing it with a triple.

Despite the heat and a pitch count of 81,6 Lester took the mound for the fifth. He worked a clean inning, putting himself in line for the win if the Nationals held the lead.

Wacha collected two strikeouts and a groundout in the home half of the fifth but allowed a home run to Jordy Mercer – the 34-year-old second baseman’s first with the Nationals – pushing Washington’s lead to 8-5.7

Andrés Machado made his Nationals8 debut in the top of the sixth. He struck out Kevin Kiermaier, popped up Brosseau, and caught Wacha looking at strike three (which was not surprising – his last plate appearance was in 2019.9)

Turner secured his place in baseball history in the bottom of the sixth. His fourth hit of the day (and 100th of the year) sailed over Margot’s head in right, bouncing off the bullpen fence. Turner sped for third, losing his batting helmet as he rounded second. He slid into third and into history as the youngest player to hit for his third career cycle,10 joining John Reilly, Bob Meusel, Babe Herman, and Adrian Beltre as the only major leaguers with three cycles.11 The crowd went wild as the scoreboard announced Turner’s accomplishment.

Soto’s single past a diving Díaz at third scored Turner. The fans demanded – and got – a curtain call after Turner arrived in the dugout. Soto stole second, took third on Bell’s groundout, and scored on Castro’s two-out homer. The Nationals had built an 11-5 lead.

The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Turner as he ran out on the field for the seventh. Machado worked another clean inning.12

The Rays’ fifth pitcher, J.P. Feyereisen, threw a scoreless seventh. Ryan Zimmerman, back with the Nationals for his 16th season after opting out in 2020 because of the pandemic, pinch-hit for Turner, who had hurt a finger on the slide into third.13

Ryne Harper was the next Nationals reliever. All he allowed in the top of the eighth was a single.

The Nationals padded their lead in the eighth. Pete Fairbanks was the Rays’ sixth pitcher. He had trouble finding the strike zone – he walked Bell, who took second on a wild pitch. Gomes singled, scoring Bell.

After Castro walked on four pitches, Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder paid a visit to the mound – much to the delight of the crowd. Gerardo Parra was the next batter, so the fans spent the pause in the action doing the entire “Baby Shark” pantomime routine for Parra’s walk-up song.14 Parra struck out, but Mercer bounced a single off Fairbanks to load the bases.

Josh Harrison15 missed a grand slam by about four feet, bouncing a double off the bullpen fence, scoring two. After Fairbanks walked Schwarber, with some of the pitches flying over the catcher’s head,16 Cash called on his closer, Diego Castillo, to finish the game. Castillo allowed the 15th Nationals run on pinch-hitter Victor Robles’ sacrifice fly.

Kyle Lobstein, in his Nationals debut,17 and Kyle McGowin contained the Rays to one run in the ninth, closing out Washington’s 15-6 win.18

The Nationals fans certainly left happy: A win and they’d witnessed Turner making history. Unfortunately for Washington, this was the high-water mark in their 2021 season at 40-38. Fourteen games against the NL West followed, wrapped around the All-Star break; the Nationals lost 11 of them and fell out of the race.

On the eve of the July 30 trading deadline, the Nationals turned toward their future with six trades involving veterans in a two-day span. Most prominently, they dealt Turner – and fellow World Series championship anchor Max Scherzer – to the Los Angeles Dodgers for four prospects.19 The Nationals finished last in the NL East at 65-97.20

Turner finished 2021 as a Dodger, but his Washington ledger – 637 games, a .300 batting average, two NL stolen-base crowns, and a record-tying collection of cycles – will always be a part of Nationals history.


Author’s note

We were at this game – at least our seats were in the shade in Section 313. The crowd was small but enthusiastic, demonstrating once again the truth of the saying, “You never know what you’re going to see when you go to the ballpark.” The excitement of seeing history made, and thinking that perhaps the Nationals had turned the corner on their season made it one of the best games of the year despite the heat.



This article was fact-checked by Jim Sweetman and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for pertinent material and the box scores noted below, as well as her own notes and the Nationals’ broadcast of the game on MLB.tv., and consulted with her friend, who kept score.





1 Mark Zuckerman, “Schwarber’s Historic Surge Keeps Nats Red-Hot,” masnsports.com, June 24, 2021. https://www.masnsports.com/nationals-pastime/2021/06/schwarbers-historic-surge-keeps-nats-red-hot.html. Retrieved January 21, 2022.

2 Bell, April 12 through May 31: .207 BA, .400 SLG. June: .282 BA, .521 SLG. His Nationals debut was delayed due to Covid protocols, which may have contributed to his slow start.

3 On May 21, Milwaukee traded him to the Rays, along with J.P. Feyereisen, for Willy Adames and Trevor Richards. The Brewers had used him only as a reliever since his debut in 2020.

4 By the end of the season, he was walked 145 times to lead the majors in that category.

5 His first was April 26, 2017, at Coors Field, in Denver.

6 Lester had thrown as many as 100 pitches in his first Nationals win on June 19, but the weather was 82 and cloudy on that day.

7 Mercer’s home run earned him “key to the batter’s box” honors for the Nationals. Named after an iconic baseball practical joke – a veteran asking a rookie or batboy to get the (nonexistent) “key to the batter’s box” – it was Nationals manager Davey Martinez’s idea to jumpstart the offense in June. A random key on a shoestring was given to the first player of each game to make a great play on offense. That player would give the key to the next player to homer. With all of Washington’s hitting in this game, the key didn’t stay in one place for very long in this game. Patrick Reddington, “Washington Nationals’ Davey Martinez on the Key to the Batter’s Box…” federalbaseball.com, July 1, 2021. https://www.federalbaseball.com/22558112/washington-nationals-davey-martinez-on-key-to-the-batters-box. Retrieved January 16, 2022.

8 His previous major-league experience was 3⅔ innings for the Royals, four seasons earlier in 2017.

9 His last at-bat had been September 25, 2019, when he was still with the Cardinals. Pitchers didn’t bat in the 2020 season and this was his first opportunity in an interleague game in 2021.

10 Turner’s two previous cycles were against the Colorado Rockies. The first was April 26, 2017, at Coors Field, the second July 23, 2019, at Nationals Park. If there were a record for cycles in coldest and hottest weather, Turner would probably hold it. For his 2017 cycle was it was 46 degrees and falling, with wind and a threat of snow.

11 Herman, who was 30 when he hit for his third career cycle in 1933, previously held the record for the youngest to three cycles.

12 Unlike his brief stint in 2017, he stuck with the Nationals in 2021, pitching 35⅔ innings to a 3.53 ERA through the end of the season.

13 He was out of the lineup until July 5. Mark Zuckerman, “Turner’s Third Career Cycle Carries Nats to Another Win,” masnsports.com, June 30, 2021. https://www.masnsports.com/nationals-pastime/2021/06/turners-third-career-cycle-carries-nats-to-another-win.html. Retrieved January 21, 2022.

14 Parra, a fan favorite on the Nationals 2019 World Series team, had returned to Washington after spending 2020 in Japan. He still used the same Baby Shark walkup music, and the fans still sang along.

15 He had pinch-hit for Machado in the seventh and stayed in to play second base.

16 Fairbanks’ ERA went from 2.49 to 4.09 in this game. He generally returned to form for the rest of the year, although he had another bad outing on September 10 (three runs in one-third of an inning).

17 A Tampa Bay second-round pick in 2008, he pitched in the majors 2014-2016, and then spent five years in the minors and international leagues working his way back. It didn’t work out – he appeared in only two more games for the Nationals, and was sold two weeks later to the Brewers, who released him after the 2021 season.

18 Perhaps it was the heat. Six of the 15 games played on June 30 had double-digit runs scored, compared with two games on April 30 and none on May 30.

19 Steven C. Weiner, “July 18, 2021: Alcides Escobar caps Nationals comeback with homer and walk-off single,” SABR Baseball Games Project. As the trading deadline passed, the Nationals’ major-league roster was now without Schwarber, Scherzer, Gomes, Harrison, Lester, Daniel Hudson, and Brad Hand.

20 The Rays, on the other hand, overtook the Red Sox on July 31, winning the division with a 100-62 record. They met the Red Sox in the ALDS and lost, three games to one.


Additional Stats

Washington Nationals 15
Tampa Bay Rays 6

Nationals Park
Washington, DC


Box Score + PBP:

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