Meares ends drought with double swig


June 20, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

When the Minnesota Twins arrived for their series with the Orioles this weekend, visiting clubhouse equipment manager Fred Tyler gave shortstop Pat Meares a locker on the same aisle with Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield.

Before yesterday, Hrbek, Puckett, Winfield and Meares had combined for 919 career home runs, which is pretty impressive, until you remember that Meares had none, in 498 career at-bats.

"He ain't supposed to be over here, with no home runs," Puckett said with a smile.

All that presumably has changed since Meares, who had the longest homer drought among active major-leaguers, hit the first two home runs of his 165-game major-league career to help pace the Twins to a 10-4 win over the Orioles.

"The clubhouse guy told me that's why I'm in this corner, so what those guys do could rub off on me," said Meares, who when told that his breakthrough would provide proof that baseballs are juiced this year, smiled and said, "They can say that, but it's still going down as two."

Meares, who went 3-for-4 on the day and drove in three runs, hit a two-run shot to left off starter Mike Oquist in the third to give the Twins a 3-2 lead. It was the big blow in a six-run inning that blew the game open, but it wasn't Meares' last.

In the eighth, after the Orioles had cut the Minnesota lead to 6-4, Meares connected again off Mark Williamson, a bases-empty shot into the left-field seats.

"I was not expecting to do that," said Meares, who is batting .282. "I was very surprised. I don't go up there swinging for home runs. I just try to hit the ball hard. I just happened to get a couple of pitches I could hit, and they really carried."

Said Twins manager Tom Kelly: "We were really fortunate that we had a guy at the bottom of the order come through like that. I was shocked. Everybody was. The ball flies, no question about it. The pitches weren't that bad. They looked like decent pitches."

Meares was the leader of a trend, as Minnesota hitters teed off on Baltimore pitching for eight extra-base hits -- five doubles and an additional home run by Hrbek, the 35th of his career against the Orioles.

Can he stay ahead of Meares? "That's my goal now," joked Hrbek, 34, who says he is playing his final season.

Said Minnesota pitcher Pat Mahomes, who got the win: "I've played with Mearsie a long time, going back to the Instructional League. You don't expect it [homers], but if you ever watch him in batting practice, you know he's got some power. It was surprising, but I'm glad he did it."

Meares' second home run ball was in a plastic sandwich bag at the foot of his locker, courtesy of a fan who threw the ball back.

The first ball was in the proud possession of Johanna Hughes of Damascus, who retrieved the ball, and hoped to trade it for one signed by her hero, Puckett.

"I thought I was going to be lynched by 45,000 Orioles fans," said Hughes, who was wearing a Twins hat. "I cheer for the Orioles when they play anyone else, but I love Kirby Puckett."

Puckett, meanwhile, seemed more inclined to let Meares retain his locker space.

"Hey, the guy hit more today than I did in a week, so I guess he can stay. For now," said Puckett.

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