Mike Mussina has a nickname for Camden Yards: Home Run Alley.
Sure, Mussina is a pitcher, but the numbers are irrefutable. The first two months of the season, Oriole Park has been an incredible hitters park, the American League's version of Coors Field.
All nine runs scored yesterday came on home runs, six in all. So far, there have been 87 in 28 games at Camden Yards, or 3.11 homers per game, for both the Orioles and their opponents. At that rate, there will be 252 homers hit at Camden Yards this season. Last year, there were 174 homers in 72 games at Oriole Park, or 2.42 per game -- meaning that home runs are up by about 25 percent here.
On the other hand, in the Orioles' 18 road games, they've given up 20 homers and hit 21, an average of 2.28 per game.
Thirteen of Brady Anderson's 18 homers have been at home, eight of 10 for B. J. Surhoff, seven of 10 for Rafael Palmeiro.
"Every fly ball, when it leaves the bat, you're thinking it could be a home run," said Mussina. "The sign reads 410 feet to center and 360 to left-center, but it plays like 375 to center and 330 in the gaps.
"Those two homers by Oakland [by Mark McGwire and Pedro Munoz] were legitimate. But the park just plays smaller. You don't often see Brady take two steps to the deepest part of the park and then quit."
Mussina suspected that McGwire broke his bat hitting a home run Friday night, and in a short conversation before yesterday's game, the Athletics first baseman confirmed this.
"He said [the bat] split right at the trademark," Mussina said. "He said, 'When I hit it, I thought the bat broke, and a flyout.' I told him, 'Well, that happens around here a lot.' "
It was suggested to Mussina that a nickname should be given to the power alley in left-center, where batters can hit balls 365 feet for homers. "No," he said, "from the left-field foul pole to the right-field foul pole -- Home Run Alley."
Mussina was right in saying both of the homers hit off David Wells yesterday were more than legitimate. McGwire's bomb to left-center carried 423 feet, and Munoz's -- the longest in Camden Yards history -- was estimated at 463 feet. Both came on fastballs that ran over the middle of the plate. Wells did not stick around to talk about either home run after the game.
Flanagan helps Mercker
Just because Mike Flanagan isn't coaching anymore doesn't mean he has stopped helping the Orioles' pitching staff.
Flanagan, a former Orioles pitching coach who now broadcasts games on television, read that Kent Mercker, today's starter, was having problems with his velocity and control but was not experiencing pain. Flanagan battled through a similar condition during his career and he instructed Mercker on some exercises to work the back of his rotator cuff.
"Mike mentioned to me that one year his velocity went from 90 [mph] to 80 because the back of his shoulder was weak, and consequently his velocity and control suffered," Mercker said. "Mine wasn't to that extreme yet, but the exercises isolate one particular muscle. And it's helped. I haven't got back that much velocity, but my control is more consistent."
No word on third base
Orioles manager Davey Johnson said Friday that the move of Cal Ripken to third base is going to happen sometime, but he won't say when it will happen, and he hasn't told Ripken to take grounders there. Every day, Ripken fields dozens of fungoes at shortstop.
"I still have to be prepared to play shortstop every day," Ripken said. "But if he asks me to take ground balls at third, I will."
Johnson: I am sensitive
Johnson talked about how people may perceive him, after a week of drama involving Ripken and Bobby Bonilla. "I know I might appear to be cold and heartless and having a large ego," said Johnson, "but that has nothing to do with it. I am sensitive and I do have an awareness of other people."
. . . Johnson wants the Orioles to do a better job of bunting and such. On Friday, Luis Polonia and Ripken each failed to get down a sacrifice bunt. "I really believe we're going to be a team that's going to have to do a little more of the little things," Johnson said.
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