Led by Tackett, last is not least in Orioles order

April 19, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

In the National League -- minus the designated hitter -- the ninth spot in the batting order is reserved for the pitcher, almost invariably the weakest hitter in the lineup.

In the American League, the recent trend has been to place a fleet player at the bottom -- such as the Detroit Tigers' Milt Cuyler -- in the hope of capitalizing on a situation where the speed of a club bats in order, No. 9 followed by the leadoff man and No. 2 hitter.

But yesterday, the Orioles had neither weakness nor speed due to hit last. They had a virtual major-league unknown.

So, when rookie catcher Jeff Tackett launched his first major-league homer off Frank Tanana in the third inning for the game's first run, it started a flood of success from the bottom.

Pinch hitter Chito Martinez hit for Tackett in the sixth and walked with the bases loaded. Then Chris Hoiles, who replaced Tackett behind the plate, homered over the center-field wall in the eighth.

The biggest thrill belonged to Tackett, who was making his first appearance of the season at the plate after beating out fan favorite Rick Dempsey for the backup catcher's job.

"When I hit the ball I was running hard and I didn't know if it would stay fair," said Tackett, who hit .438 to top the club in spring training. "I had rounded second and I didn't see any signal, but then I realized it was out. That was one of the greatest thrills of my life right there."

Tackett is the same guy who once went 1,211 at-bats in the minor leagues without a home run. He has accumulated 12 since that streak ended, but none like yesterday's.

"I'm just trying to stay relaxed," he said. "I didn't want to feel extra pressure, only to keep doing what I was doing in spring training."

Oates started Tackett in a day game after a night game to give Hoiles his first breather. Tackett had caught Mike Mussina in the minors and had played against Detroit in the final weeks of last year. It was a propitious time.

"I changed my stance midway through 1989 and that helped," Tackett said. "It has paid off more and more in the power department because I've kept that same stance.

"But catching has always been my specialty. I get more excited about throwing runners out [which he did to would-be base-stealer Mickey Tettleton] than getting hits. I've never been a home run hitter."

Hoiles has six hits in his last nine at-bats, the latest a 418-foot drive to center that was the longest yet at the new park. His was less shocking than Tackett's.

"Not to take anything away from it," he said, "but Tack is the one who got us off on the right tack and then Chito did the job as a pinch hitter. I just added to the cause."

The Hoiles homer was the first not hit to left field at Oriole Park.

"I usually don't hit many to center field," he said. "I knew I had hit it good, but I've seen a lot of balls that seemed to be decently hit caught out there. I don't think you can safely say yet you know it's gone when it goes out there."

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