Munoz's long shot stands out even on homer-happy day

May 26, 1996|By John Eisenberg

There was a home run derby instead of a ballgame at Camden Yards yesterday.

Everyone hit one, it seemed, except the guy the Orioles really needed to hit one -- Bobby Bonilla, who left eight runners on base and struck out to end the game.

The home run derby was a tie. The Orioles and Oakland Athletics each hit three.

Every run in Oakland's 6-3 win scored on a home run.

"I don't remember ever seeing that before," said Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, who has only been in professional baseball since 1959.

Fittingly on such a day, the decisive hit was the longest home run ever hit at Camden Yards.

Oakland's Pedro Munoz, a stocky outfielder from Puerto Rico, hit a ball 463 feet, over the fence just to the left of dead center field.

The homer, which drove in three runs, came on an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles' David Wells with one out in the sixth inning.

You won't see a ball hit harder all season.

It was a sneaky record-breaker, not the kind of high, monster mash that stuns a crowd, but a long line drive that kept rising as it passed above the infield and beyond Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson.

Anderson turned to chase the ball and took just a few steps before slowing to a jog, obviously aware that he wasn't going to catch this one.

"That doesn't happen too often, a ball hit over your head like that in center field," said Anderson, who hit two home runs himself yesterday. "It was massive."

The ball would have landed in the picnic area behind center field had it traveled another 20 feet.

As it was, it landed at least 50 feet beyond the outfield fence, bounced on the grassy knoll behind the fence and hit the brick wall covered with ivy.

"I knew it was out when I hit it," Munoz said, "but I didn't know how far it had gone."

At the time, it didn't appear to be the longest in the ballpark's five-year history; Eric Davis hit one that bounced off the ivy wall on the fly when he was with the Tigers three years ago.

But the ivy wall angles away from the field to the left of dead center, creating an optical illusion. Munoz's ball actually traveled 11 feet farther than Davis'.

One of Munoz's teammates, reliever Mike Mohler, hopped over the bullpen railing, retrieved the ball from the grass and gave it to Munoz after the game.

"I'm gonna keep it," Munoz said.

You might think that players are too cool to care about stuff like this, but they aren't.

At least, Munoz wasn't.

He had no idea that he had hit the longest home run in Camden Yards history until a Home Team Sports cameraman told him in the dugout two innings later.

TTC "My teammates all came around, which was neat," Munoz said. "They said, 'Wow, that was some bomb.' "

Told that he had outdistanced some major and memorable home runs hit by such players as Ken Griffey and Juan Gonzalez, he burst into a smile.

"It's a great feeling," he said. "I have a lot of respect for those guys. They hit some bombs. To beat them feels good."

In a sense, Munoz was an unlikely candidate to make such instant history. He had only 61 career home runs in the major leagues before this year, and only four in 1996 before yesterday.

His A's teammate, Mark McGwire, has a much grander reputation for crushing balls.

"If McGwire had hit the one I did today, it would have gone clean out of the park," Munoz said.

Yet Munoz also has a track record. Two years ago, when he was with the Twins, he hit the longest ball ever hit at the Metrodome -- a 473-footer off California's Mark Langston.

Though only 5 feet 10, he is a thick and well-muscled 210 pounds.

"Are you that strong?" someone asked him yesterday.

He smiled. "The one at the Metrodome was pretty big," he said. "I knew I hit the one today good. I didn't know how good until a few innings later."

Camden Yards has developed a sizable portfolio of long home runs in just five years.

There was the one Gonzalez hit off the upper deck facade in the All-Star Game home run hitting contest in 1993 -- probably the longest ball ever hit at the park, period.

There also was the one Griffey hit off the warehouse on the fly, also in the All-Star Game home run hitting contest. No one has ever hit the warehouse on the fly during a game.

There also was Davis' hit to dead center, and Mickey Tettleton's line drive that landed on Eutaw Street and bounced against the warehouse on a short hop in 1992.

Now, there is Pedro Munoz's line drive. Call it the Picnic Poke.

"And all I really wanted," Munoz said, "was not to hit into a double play."

Camden clouts

Longest Oriole Park homers:

Player Yr. Ft. Pitcher

P. Munoz '96 463 Wells

E. Davis '93 452 Rhodes

J. Gonzalez '92 450 Mussina

C. Davis '95 445 McDonald

H. Baines '94 442 Stottlemyre

Pub Date: 5/26/96

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