Orioles on an early power trip

Three more home runs gives them 30 for season

team is on pace for 174

May 03, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Home runs are down in the majors this season. If chicks dig the long ball, their affection mostly has gone unreturned.

So what's the logical explanation for the Orioles' early power surge, which could make them baseball's darlings within the female sector, if not the manager's office?

The same team that ranked next-to-last in home runs in the American League in 2001 belted three more last night against Kansas City Royals starter Paul Byrd in a 6-2 victory at Camden Yards. With 30 heading into tonight's game, the Orioles are on pace to hit 174, an unlikely accomplishment given their previous futility and inability this winter to add some heavy lumber.

Weren't they supposed to be reliant again on manufacturing runs? Wasn't that the purpose of adding speed to the top of the lineup, including the January trade for No. 2 hitter Chris Singleton?

Rather than bog down when unable to string together singles and steal bases, the Orioles are taking shortcuts to scoring with some big swings. David Segui and Jeff Conine hit their second homers last night, and Tony Batista took over the club lead with his eighth.

"We don't have a whole lot of home run hitters. We're not a club that's built on power, but we do have people in the lineup who are strong and get the ball out of the ballpark," said manager Mike Hargrove.

Conine's two-run shot traveled 435 feet before landing in the Royals' bullpen in left-center field. Byrd hung a 3-1 slider, and Conine attacked it as if the ball was sitting on a tee.

Segui's homer, which gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the first, also lacked drama. He flipped the bat and admired it briefly, the ball landing a few rows from the iron fence beyond the flag court. Estimated distance: 408 feet.

Batista, whose grand slam off New York's Roger Clemens highlighted Opening Day, was meek by comparison. He reached for a low changeup to pass Jay Gibbons for the team lead and build on the four homers and 12 RBIs he amassed on the just-concluded road trip.

With 136 homers last season, the Orioles ranked ahead of only Tampa Bay (121) among AL teams. They signed Marty Cordova as a free agent - he had 20 last summer with the Cleveland Indians - but failed in their half-hearted pursuit of slugger Juan Gonzalez. They also shied away from Scott Rolen and his extreme contract demands during the winter meetings, leaving them with a lineup that didn't figure to challenge Barry Bonds' single-season record.

Club officials countered by focusing on the potential of Gibbons, who hit 15 homers in 225 at-bats last season before breaking his hamate bone in August. And by projecting full seasons from Segui, who appeared in only 82 games because of injuries, and Batista, who hit 41 with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2000. They received an added bonus in catcher Geromino Gil, who has five homers in 70 at-bats this season after hitting none with the Orioles in 58 at-bats last season.

"Does all of this surprise me? No, it doesn't surprise me," Hargrove said. "But I also learned a long time ago never to look a gift horse in the mouth."

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