'Slam' Horn strikes blow for free-swingers

April 16, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

MILWAUKEE -- Just about everyone agrees it takes a certain mentality to be a successful home run hitter: He must be able to accept absolute failure.

So far you'd have to say that Sam Horn qualifies.

It's not that the Orioles' designated hitter likes the idea of striking out nine times in 14 at-bats (which he has done). But often that is the price you have to pay.

"When I'm swinging good and striking out, it doesn't bother me," said Horn. "It's when you're not seeing the ball, or swinging at bad pitches, that it gets to you."

That being the case, Horn was especially relieved to get a fourth chance here yesterday afternoon. He had two strikeouts and a weak infield groundout before a couple of two-out singles by Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis and a walk to Dwight Evans loaded the bases.

When Milwaukee manager Tom Treblehorn went to the pitching mound to make a change, Horn figured he was history. The Orioles were leading 3-2 and looking to put the game away.

"I knew he was going to bring in a lefthander," said Horn, who knew that would mean he wouldn't get to swing. "Frank [manager Frank Robinson] plays the percentages and you have to in that part of the game."

But when Treblehorn signaled for a replacement for Chuck Crim, he did so with his right hand. "When I saw him point like that, I thought maybe he was signaling for the second guy in the bullpen," said Horn.

When he saw Edwin Nunez emerge, Horn knew he had a reprieve -- and a tactical slap in the face. "It showed me that they had a pitcher they felt could get me out with a certain pitch," he said. "I knew what had to be done."

Three pitches later -- after a strike and a ball -- Horn hit his second home run of the season just left of straightaway centerfield. "To a power hitter, strikeouts are a part of life," Horn said. "If you give in, then you're not a power hitter -- you turn into a 'Punch-and-Judy' hitter."

But Horn also knew he had to make some concessions. "The first two pitches were away, and I made up my mind that I was going to have to take something out there up the middle or the other way [toward leftfield]. I was in my defensive mode," he said.

Horn's defensive mode, however, is different from most. He took the pitch all the way up -- and over -- the middle to ice a 7-2 victory.

"There's nothing a home run hitter can do about strikeouts," said Orioles hitting coach Tom McCraw. "He has to develop that kind of mentality. He can strike out three times and then do something to turn the game around -- like Sam did.

"You watch Glenn [Davis]. If he strikes out, you don't seen any temper tantrums or helmet throwing. He just goes back and gets ready for the next time.

"Every at-bat is like a new day to a power hitter," said McCraw. "That's the way they have to look at it."

Still, it figures to be difficult when a hitter is piling up strikeouts at a Nolan Ryan pace. But maybe not for the hitter.

"It's not tough at all when you're a home run hitter," said Robinson, who knows all about that aspect of it. "You just put it out of your mind."

How about the manager? How tough is it for him when one of his home run hitters keeps striking out?

"Very tough," Robinson said.

As a team, the Orioles are not hitting with a great deal of consistency, but in the last three games they may have given an indication of what to expect. They've launched seven home runs.

"And they've all come from the middle of the lineup," said McCraw. "That's what those guys get paid to do."

In addition to Horn's grand slam, the Orioles got home runs from Davis and Ripken (his third in the last three games). The Orioles ended up with more runs than hits (6) and their third win in four games on this road trip.

Call it the efficient, or economic, method, but the long ball has started to come into play.

There are still people in the lineup -- most notably Randy Milligan, Dwight Evans and Chris Hoiles -- who are still struggling at the plate. But the right signs are beginning to appear.

A second healthy, though not overpowering, pitching performance by Jose Mesa and good closing efforts by Mike Flanagan and Mark Williamson gave the pitching staff a needed boost.

The Orioles have yet to take on the appearance of a juggernaut, but at least there are indications that the machinery is in working order. There is still some fine-tuning to be done, but when the boppers do their thing it can cover a lot of little failings.

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