Home has been O so sweet, but why? Orioles say reasons are many, as are fans

May 06, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

Everyone has his own way of measuring the comforts of home. For some, it's the feeling that comes from slumping into a plush recliner. For others, it's the warmth from a cozy fire.

For pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, home comfort begins the day the dry cleaning returns.

"I just got my dry cleaning from the last road trip. Let me get my dry cleaning, and I know I'm home," Sutcliffe said this week.

Except for yesterday's 5-3 loss to the Texas Rangers, the Orioles have known they're at home by looking at the win column.

Through 12 games at Oriole Park, the guys in white are 10-2, and have won nine of their past 10 games, managing either to sweep or split all four series they've played at their new home.

The Orioles are outscoring opponents 71-30 and are batting .282 at home, compared with the opposition's .194. The Orioles' earned run average at Camden Yards is a measly 2.25.

The Orioles have christened their new park not only with their best home start, but also with the best start of any major-league team in a new dwelling.

What's going on here?

"I really can't explain why. We don't seem to be doing anything special," said pitcher Ben McDonald, who is 2-0 at home with a shutout and a 2.18 ERA.

"You really can't put a finger on it. It's a little bit of everything," said first baseman/designated hitter Randy Milligan, who hit two homers, including a grand slam, and drove in six runs in an April 17 game here against Detroit.

"There's something here, but what is hard to put your finger on," said Sutcliffe, who is 3-0 here with two shutouts and an 0.70 ERA.

Generally speaking, baseball does not operate like other sports, say, basketball, for instance, where the home-court advantage is paramount.

The Utah Jazz, for example, has won 40 of 44 games in its brand new Delta Center, a 91 percent rate. By contrast, the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers, the best home teams in the majors last season, won 63 and 67 percent, respectively.

But there's still something to be said for the comforts of home and settling into predictable routines.

"It's tough to play on the road. We've been to Toronto, Boston, New York, which is never a fun place, not just for the place, but for all the other things that go on," said Mike Mussina, who, like Sutcliffe, is unbeaten at home, but also is unbeaten on the road.

Though nearly everyone is sticking to the company line that the team is playing as well on the road -- where it has a 7-7 record -- as it is at home, the Orioles clearly have done a quick study on the quirks of their new home.

For instance, infielders complained early on about the height of the grass, and it was cut this weekend at their request.

"If we have a home-field advantage, it's in the infield, not the

outfield," said manager Johnny Oates.

"With the grass so high, I think if we can make them [the opponents] hit the ball on the ground, we'll be OK," said McDonald.

Orioles outfielders have used the wide-open spaces to track down long flies, and generally have stayed away from crashing into the fence, which, behind padding, is made of concrete.

That's a fact Seattle Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. learned all too painfully Saturday night, when he crashed into the wall going after David Segui's home run. Griffey missed two games with a sore back.

"Brady [Anderson] and Devo [Mike Devereaux] knew there's cement behind the fence. Griffey Jr. knows that now," said Oates.

"It probably did surprise him," Anderson said of Griffey, "because he didn't think it was as hard as it was. But we're going to get hurt because we'll go after it just as hard."

Oates and the players point to one other immeasurable factor that has helped guide their play so far: fan support.

The Orioles are averaging 43,640 fans, and with the exception of two games, they've given them a reason to go home happy each time.

"Each night you walk out the door and see 45,000 people. You know it's important to them, because they're coming all the time," said Sutcliffe. "They've been getting here early and they don't leave in the seventh. It's been fun."

Perhaps the upshot of this is that it doesn't matter if the Orioles are wearing road grays or home whites.

"We're just playing well no matter where we are. Stop asking questions and accept it," said Mussina.

Home records

Home records of American League teams through yesterday's

early games:

Team.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Record.. .. .. .. Pct.

Orioles.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 10-2.. .. .. .. .833

Toronto.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 11-4.. .. .. .. .733

Oakland.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 7-4.. .. .. .. .636

Chicago.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 8-6.. .. .. .. .571

Boston.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .9-7.. .. .. .. .583

New York.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 8-7.. .. .. .. .533

Milwaukee.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .7-7.. .. .. .. .500

Seattle.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 6-7.. .. .. .. .462

Minnesota.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .4-7.. .. .. .. .364

California.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 3-6.. .. .. .. .333

Detroit.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 5-10.. .. .. .. .333

Cleveland.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 6-12.. .. .. .. .333

Texas.. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. .. 3-7.. .. .. .. ..300

Kansas City.. .. .. .. .. .. ... 1-8.. .. .. .. ..111

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