O's cash in Hoiles' two grand Catcher's two slams drive away Indians, 15-3, for Mussina

Davis extends streak to 29

Ninth player to do it, Hoiles is first catcher

August 15, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Chris Hoiles made his point. Then the Orioles catcher smothered it in history to make sure everyone noticed.

Enjoying the most prolific offensive performance of the season, Hoiles last night became only the ninth major-league player -- and the first catcher -- to hammer two grand slams in a game. Batting eighth within a lineup that crushed the Cleveland Indians, 15-3, before 43,169 at Jacobs Field, Hoiles finished with eight RBIs and three hits, reminding all who may have doubted that his potential for wrecking remains.

Hoiles slammed Indians starter Charles Nagy (10-8) during a five-run third inning that bumped the Orioles' lead to 8-1. Five innings later with the bases loaded, he yanked a towering home run inside the left-field foul pole off left-handed reliever Ron Villone.

A dangerous second-half hitter throughout his career, Hoiles has entered a time-share with Lenny Webster at his position this season. Webster is considered a superior defensive player and is also enjoying a solid offensive year. Hoiles entered last night's game with one less start and 46 fewer at-bats than Webster. He left only one shy of the club record for RBIs shared by Jim Gentile and Eddie Murray.

The presence of more than 20 friends and family made the night even more memorable. His mother and wife along with a vanload of folks from his hometown of Bowling Green 90 minutes away reveled along with him. The same crew had traveled to Detroit last month to witness his two-home run game against the Tigers.

The presence of Mike Mussina as starting pitcher meant just as much. He is the only Orioles starter Hoiles is guaranteed catching.

"It means a lot to have my family, my mom, my wife, my kids and my friends from back home here to see this," said Hoiles, the first since Robin Ventura on Sept. 4, 1995, to hit two grand slams in the same game. "That makes it more special."

So, too, does validating the claim that he only requires opportunity to offer production.

"[Playing sporadically] has a lot to do with it," he said. "I sat three or four games before I played tonight. To be able to do this is a little gratifying."

Given 400 at-bats only twice in a nine-year major-league career, Hoiles is a lifetime .252 hitter before the All-Star break and a .276 hitter afterward. He needs at-bats to find a comfort zone, Hoiles says.

The last six weeks have provided evidence as Hoiles has been on a rampage since the All-Star break. In his last 20 games, Hoiles has 27 RBIs compared to a frustrating first half in which he struggled for 17 RBIs in 52 games. Hoiles managed only one RBI in May, six in June and at one point in Boston confronted manager Ray Miller about his diminished role. At his lowest, Hoiles batted .197 on June 14 and wondered if he might be traded.

"It's been a different season for me. It's not an everyday thing anymore. That's the way he wants it," said Hoiles. "The only thing I can do is stay ready. There is only one day out of the week that I know I'm going to play for sure and the other ones are kind of a toss-up."

Miller points to the combined production of Hoiles and Webster -- 21 home runs and 83 RBIs -- as proof his system works. At times Webster has groused about his role too. By keeping neither man happy, Miller has received a windfall.

"The personalities involved have torn me a little bit. I think they're both first-class citizens and I love having them both back there," Miller said, adding, "Whether it's the right thing or not I don't know. But if you add up the RBIs and the home runs it's a pretty good year."

Hoiles readily embraces the suggestion of a position switch for more at-bats. Questions about his below average throwing arm have long since wearied him. That he averages an RBI about every 4.5 at-bats is hardly mentioned.

"I'd accept [another position] in a heartbeat," Hoiles said. "My biggest asset is when I have a stick in my hands."

Mussina (11-6) pitched eight innings but did not dominate. He surrendered his second road home run of the season when Indians third baseman Travis Fryman reached him to begin the second. He spaced seven hits without a walk, retiring the last 12 hitters he faced after the Indians closed to within 8-2 in the fourth.

"From the fourth inning on I was pretty sharp," Mussina said. "The first couple innings I needed some help. But the guys kept pouring it on. Hoiles can hit two grand slams whenever he wants when I'm pitching."

The Orioles took a 1-0 lead after three hitters when Rafael Palmeiro scored Roberto Alomar on a sacrifice fly. Alomar led off with a single and took third on Brady Anderson's double.

Against Nagy, the Orioles kept piling on in the second, making it 3-0.

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