Horn is whiff of aggressive air for Orioles

June 26, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

CLEVELAND -- On the average, Sam Horn hits a home run every 16 times he carries a bat to home plate. Every six times he makes an appearance he drives in a run.

And, every three times he strikes out.

It isn't hard then to figure out that the Orioles' designated hitter draws more attention by swinging and missing than he does by hitting the long ball. He is the prototype of the "swing-hard-in-case-you-hit-it" slugger. You live by the big swish and sometimes you suffer with it.

"There's no question he carries the lumber back to the dugout a lot of times," said Orioles manager John Oates. "But I can live with his strikeouts."

Especially on nights when Horn delivers a two-run homer to provide an early lead, and a two-out double to drive in the winning run -- as Horn did last night in the Orioles' 5-3, 12-inning win over the Cleveland Indians.

Horn went into the game in a somewhat deceiving slump -- 1-for-17 and 3-for-27. He had only one RBI in his last 10 games and had gone almost two weeks without hitting a home run.

"I've been striking out a lot lately," Horn admitted, "and I came to the park with the idea of concentrating on seeing the ball and hitting it hard. The strikeouts don't affect me, because I'm an aggressive hitter. I'm going to strike out. But I think it's more important for me to stay aggressive than it is to just go up there and look for a certain pitch.

"I swing hard at everything," said Horn. "I don't try to overswing, but I try to hit the ball extremely hard. And when I do hit it, things happen."

There have been times this year when it appeared Horn wasn't certain of playing against all righthanded pitching because of his inconsistency at the plate. "It probably looked like that a few days ago," admitted Oates, the man who has made out the Orioles' lineup card for the last 31 games.

Like a lot of other people though, Oates is intrigued by the numbers Horn puts up in relatively few at-bats. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound lefthanded hitter has 11 homers and 28 RBIs, which is on pace to finish with 24 and 65-70, respectively.

Not spectacular, but impressive.

"He's going to have a lot of strikeouts, but I can live with him," said Oates. "He's going to hit some home runs and he's going to drive in some runs. When it's all over he'll rank among the leaders in home runs and RBIs per at-bat, and that's what you want your DH to do.

"I don't want him hitting .320 with a bunch of singles and cluttering up the bases," said Oates. "I want him to do what he's doing."

Even if it means suffering through the dry spells.

"When he doesn't overswing, Sam has the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field," said Oates, referring to Horn's double that split the gap in left-centerfield. "I think it upset him when he struck out the time before [in the 10th inning] when all we needed was what he gave us the next time.

"But the way I look at that strikeout -- it didn't count, because if he hadn't hit the two-run homer we would've lost 3-1."

Overswinging is a term Horn doesn't easily identify with because he's a home run hitter first, and a run-producer second. Everything else is gravy.

Yet even he admitted he might have been too aggressive in the 10th inning at-bat. After Brady Anderson walked and moved to second on a passed ball, Cal Ripken was intentionally walked with two outs.

"After they walked Cal, I was thinking it would be nice to hit a home run in that spot," said Horn, who chased a couple of high fastballs.

When he got another chance two innings later, Horn was probably more disciplined -- but certainly no less aggressive. He hit a sinker from Doug Jones to score Anderson, who had singled, from first base. When Randy Milligan followed with a single the Orioles were en route to their third straight extra-inning victory.

Horn's earlier home run and a towering blast by Ripken in the eighth enabled the Orioles to get into extra innings. And superlative relief work by Todd Frohwirth, Mark Williamson (2-2) and Gregg Olson (13th save) gave them a chance to win.

The efforts by Williamson and Olson were particularly gratifying, because both had unpleasant experiences during Sunday's doubleheader in Kansas City, even though the Orioles escaped with two wins. "I've never seen anybody play the game who's done it every time," said Oates. "Those guys have gone through it before, and they'll go through it again."

Horn knows all about going through tough streaks. But a strikeout every three plate appearances isn't going to keep him from his appointed swings. And they aren't going to reduce the amount of energy behind each one.

"I've never really seen Sam go through a hot streak," said Oates. "But I've seen him in certain games where he gets really locked in on a pitcher and every at-bat is a good one."

Last night Horn had a lot of swings in six at-bats. Two of them were damaging. On the average, one per game would probably be adequate for the big slugger. Two is a bonus.

Last night the Orioles collected the bonus to run their winning streak to a season-high four. Beating Cleveland at the moment doesn't exactly rank as a stunning accomplishment, but the Orioles have been there, so they can appreciate a winning streak, even a modest one like four games.

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