I began the research for this post Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after Seby Zavala of the White Sox had hit 3 home runs against Cleveland.
Zavala became the first player ever to hit his first 3 career homer in the same game.
It was only the 18th game of his career, and his third homer came in just his 48th plate appearance.
Naturally, I wondered what were the fewest games and trips to the plate before a Cub hit his third homer in one game.
Then, on Sunday afternoon, along came Rafael Ortega, with his incredible 3 homers for the Cubs at Washington, making the topic of even greater interest!
NOT SO FAST!
Ortega's 3-homer game was his 50th as a Cub, all since May 26. His third homer, a 2-run shot in the ninth that tied the score, was his 123rd trip to the plate.
Remarkably, of the 26 different players who have homered 3 times in a game as a Cub, 6 did so in fewer games than Ortega, and 5 did it in fewer plate appearances.
George Mitterwald had far and away the fewest in both categories.
He joined the Cubs in 1974, after 8 seasons with the Twins. On April 17, in just his fifth game as a Cub, he hit his first homer for his new team, a first-inning grand slam that gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead over the Pirates.
He added a 2-run shot in the third, drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth, then homered with nobody on in the sixth. The third homer was just his 20th plate appearance for his new club.
The runnerup to Mitterwald is Tuffy Rhodes, whose 3 homers against the Mets on Opening Day, April 4, of 1994, came in his 16th game as a Cub. Rhodes slammed solo homers in the first, third and fifth. Homer No. 3, leading off the inning, was his 66th PA as a Cub.
24, 25, 26
Rick Monday's 3-homer game on May 16, 1972, was his 24th in his first season with the Cubs. He hit a 3-run homer in the first, then solo homers in the third and fifth. The latter was his 89th plate appearance of the season.
Dioner Navarro homered 3 times in his 25th game as a Cub, just 1 more than Monday. On May 29, 2013, he blasted a solo homer in the second, a 2-run homer in the fourth and a 3-run homer in the seventh. The third homer was in just his 63rd PA, nearly 30 percent fewer than Monday's 89.
Dave Kingman needed 26 games, 1 more than Navarro, and 101 PA to hit his third homer of a game -- but what a homer it was: a 3-run drive in the top of the 15th inning that broke a 7-7 tie. Kingman had created that tie with a 2-run homer in the ninth, after having brought the Cubs to within 3-2 with a 2-run homer in the sixth.
The final Cub who homered 3 times in fewer games than Ortega was Hank Leiber, playing his 45th game in his first season with the team, on July 4, 1939. He homered with nobody on in second inning, 1 on in the third and nobody on again in the sixth. The third homer was his 166th PA, one third more than Ortega's 123.
OTHERS IN FEWER THAN 100 GAMES
Three additional players had a 3-homer game among their first 100 as a Cub:
1. Alfonso Soriano, in his 53rd game, on June 8, 2007. He hit solo homers in the first, second and fourth. The last of the 3 was his 241st PA.
2. Babe Herman, in his 85th game, on July 20, 1933. After slugging 2-run homers in the third and fifth, he walloped a grand slam in the eighth, in his 360th PA.
3. Andre Dawson, in his 97th game, on Aug. 1, 1987. He lined into a double play in the first inning, then hit a 3-run homer in the third to open the scoring, followed by homers as the first batter in the fifth and the seventh. His third homer was his 416th PA.
MORE THAN 100 GAMES
The first 3-homer game by 5 Cubs was No. 125 through 194: Lee Walls (125), Brant Brown (139), Aramis Ramirez (155), Adolfo Phillips (167) and Walt "Moose" Moryn (194).
For 6 more sluggers, it was game No. 206 through 275. Rogers Hornsby and Clyde McCullough both did it in their 206th game. Hank Sauer did it in 211, just 2 fewer than Moises Alou. Kris Bryant took 224 games; Ernie Banks, 275.
There is a gap of 148 games until the player who took the next-most games before hitting 3 homers as a Cub: 523, by Sammy Sosa.
Then it is 145 more games until Hack Wilson. He was the first Cub in the Modern Era to homer 3 times, in his 678th game with the team. He accomplished the feat at Philadelphia on July 26, 1930, in the Cubs' 4,508th game since Opening Day of 1901.
MOST GAMES, PLATE APPEARANCES
Bill Nicholson's 3-homer game in 1944 was his 726th as a Cub.
Andy Pafko joined the exclusive club in his 853rd game, in 1950.
But 1 Cub was playing his 1,294th game, 441 more than anyone else who hit 3 homers, before he finally did it: Hall of Famer Billy Williams.
Williams' third homer on Sept. 10, 1968, came in his 5,561st plate appearance, which was 2,013 more than Pafko's 3,548.
Nicholson's third homer was in his 3,119th PA; Wilson's, in his 2,983rd; Sosa's, in his 2,269th; and Banks', in his 1,152.
No other player's third homer came in a PA higher than 882, by Alou. Bryant and Sauer both did it in their 877th; Hornsby, in his 868th; and Moryn, in his 817th.
All the other final homer in players' first 3-homer games came in 745 or fewer PA.
THIRD HOMER AS CAREER HOMER WITH CUBS
Mitterwald's 3 homers in the same game were his first 3 as a Cub.
The third of Monday's 3 was his fifth.
Ortega on Sunday became the third Cub whose 3 homers doubled his total since joining the team. Navarro and Rhodes also had 6 homers as Cubs after hitting 3 in a game.
Ortega's 3 homers raised his career total with all teams to 9, 1 more than Rhodes had after his outburst. The first 2 of Rhodes' career had come while playing for the Astros, both off Mike Bielecki of the Cubs, in separate games in 1990 and 1991.
Navarro's third homer was his 47th.
Kingman's third homer was his seventh as a Cub; Leiber's, his ninth.
The third homers by Herman, Soriano and Walls all raised their total as Cubs to 10.
Eight more players hit a third home run among their first 50 with the team: McCullough (14), Brown (20), Phillips (27), Alou (28), Dawson (31), Ramirez (36), Hornsby (46) and Bryant (47).
Sauer's third was his 53rd; Moryn's, his 56th; and Banks', his 57th.
All other Cubs hit at least 100 homers before hitting the third in their first 3-homer game. The last of Pafko's 3 homers was his 102nd; of Sosa's, his 122nd; of Nicholson's, his 126th; of Wilson's, his 153; and of Williams', his 227th.
MOST 3-HOMER GAMES
Sosa hit 423 more home runs as a Cub, for a team-record 545, 33 ahead of Banks. Fifteen of his later homers came in 5 more 3-homer games, for a total of 6.
Banks hit 3 homers a total of 4 times; Kingman and Ramirez, 3; and Bryant, Sauer and Soriano, 2.
Ortega, for now, is the 19th to do it once.
Ortega also had a single on Sunday, giving him 4 hits. The Cubs managed only 1 other hit, a single by pinch hitter Andrew Romine.
The total of 5 is the fewest hits that the Cubs ever have made in a game in which a player homered 3 times.
They had finished with 6 in 3 previous such games, when Leiber homered 3 times in 1939; McCullough, in 1942; and Ramirez, in 2004.
Ramirez had a fourth hit in the 2004 game, a double. Ortega became the 16th Cub to have 3 homers among 4 hits. In the 15 previous such games, they averaged 14.5 total hits, with a high of 18. They had at least 11 in every earlier game except the one in 2004.
Bryant, in 2016, became the only Cub with 5 hits in a 3-homer game. His 2 doubles made him the first player in Major League history with a "full house" of 3 homers and 2 doubles. Two players have done it since then.
In all 41 games in which a Cubs has hit 3 homers, including Sunday's, the Cubs have averaged 13.2 hits.
CAN'T WIN 'EM ALL
With their 6-5, walk-off loss to the Nationals, the Cubs' record is now 29-12 in games in which a player homered 3 times.
They had won their previous 8 such games, from a 10-7 victory over the Phillies at home on July 30, 2004, in which Ramirez hit 3 homers, to a 14-6 win at Washington on May 17, 2019, in which Bryant turned the trick.
Their last loss had been on July 4, 2003, when they fell to the Cardinals at home, 11-8. Alou hit the last of his 3 homers with 2 out and 2 on in the bottom of the ninth.