DETROIT -- When Rick Down took the job as hitting coach of the Orioles back in January, he boldly promised manager Davey Johnson the offense would score 800 runs. He said nothing about homers, because looking at the lineup, he didn't foresee the Orioles as a particularly powerful team.
Nobody did. Brady Anderson never had hit more than21, Roberto Alomar no more than 17. B. J. Surhoff's career high was 13.
But the '96 Orioles will be remembered as one of the most powerful teams in history: Yesterday, they broke the single-season team record for homers, previously held by the 1961 New York Yankees.
The Orioles did not merely surpass the '61 Yankees' record for homers. They conquered it, crushing five homers in a 16-6 blowout of Detroit. Brady Anderson led off the game with his 46th of the year, the Orioles' 239th; Cal Ripken hit No. 240 later in the first inning; backup catcher Mark Parent knocked the record-setter, No. 241, in the third inning; Bobby Bonilla bashed a grand slam in the eighth, No. 242; Ripken, immediately following Bonilla, hit his second of the game and the Orioles' 243rd of the season.
Bonilla shook his head at the gaudy numbers, and said he never thought the Orioles would hit so many homers. "Not like this," Bonilla said. "Not at this pace."
Down said, "You never think about breaking a record."
As spring training started, several players privately expressed concern that the Orioles wouldn't have enough power, particularly with the departure of designated hitter Harold Baines. General manager Pat Gillick didn't put this lineup together with power in mind, adding two good hitters -- Alomar and Surhoff -- who had only occasional power. What Johnson and Gillick wanted was to increase the team's speed.
But Anderson shocked the baseball world by hitting 11 homers in April, and his teammates have followed in his wake the whole season.
"Things just fell into place," said Gillick. "A lot of good things
have happened this year Maybe the parks are a little smaller, the pitching, whatever. But really, our guys have been outstanding. I think our guys have done a tremendous job and continued on this pace all year. It's fantastic."
Anderson said, "It's going to feel nice to be a member of the team that hit the most home runs in major-league history."
The offensive attack of the '61 Yankees was built around two sluggers: Roger Maris, who hit a single-season record 61 homers that season, and Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle, who hit 54 and might have had more if not for a late-season injury. The M & M Boys, as they were called, combined for 115 and the rest of the Yankees accounted for 125.
Although Anderson is closing in on 50 homers, the Orioles have had a much more balanced attack, with a record seven players hitting 20 or more homers for the club this year. Rafael Palmeiro has 36, Bonilla 28, Chris Hoiles 25, Ripken 23, Alomar 21 and Surhoff 20.
In July, the Orioles traded for Eddie Murray, who has hit nine in 52 games to reach 500 for his career. The Orioles added Todd Zeile and Pete Incaviglia in a swap with the Phillies on Aug. 29, and the Orioles have hit 37 homers in the 17 games since.
"Inky and Todd have done a great job for us," said Bonilla. "Sometimes, those late-season additions are a real shot in the arm."
Alomar said, "It surprises me we broke the record. I have 21
homers, and I never had 20 before. Bobby's come along like you knew he would. Raffy's hitting them. Hoiles slumped a little bit at the beginning of the year but he came along. Brady has 46 now. It seems like everybody's hitting the ball good."
During yesterday's onslaught, Tigers manager Buddy Bell -- whose pitching staff has set a major-league record for homers allowed in a season -- turned to pitching coach Rick Adair and asked, "What are we going to do?"
Bell said afterward, "Everybody [the Orioles] send up there is a hitter. If you have a [Charles] Nagy or [Orel] Hershiser, they're tough to beat."
The Orioles' display of power is part of a surge in offense around baseball. The per-game rate of homers has increased about 15 percent, and the Orioles' home-run rate has jumped from 1.2 per game last year to 1.6 this year.
Johnson, Palmeiro and Bonilla have all said in recent days the record won't mean much if the Orioles, with all their power, don't make the playoffs. Johnson said, "I don't put a lot of stock in records. To me, the only records that mater are getting in the playoffs."
But Johnson paused after saying that, and grinned slightly, thinking about erasing a mark held by an archrival. "It's nice," he said, "to break the record the Yankees held."
How to determine the matchups for the first round of the American League playoffs:
The Central and West champions will have home-field advantage.
The better record of the Central and West champions will play the wild card.
If the wild card comes from the Central or West, it will play the champion not in its division.
The Central and West champions will not meet.