Carlos Delgado brings the same model bat to the plate that he has swung for the past four years. Same length, same weight, same manufacturer.
It's the size of the baseball that has changed.
To Delgado, the Toronto Blue Jays' first baseman, it must look like a manhole cover. And he's flattening every type of pitch.
He's leading the majors with 76 RBIs, and his 22 home runs are tied with Cincinnati's Adam Dunn. With a .316 batting average that held firm after last night's rainout at Camden Yards, he's a more viable Triple Crown threat than Funny Cide.
"It's pretty amazing," said former Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick, in his first season with the Blue Jays. "Carlos has been a great hitter his whole career, but he's doing some special things right now."
Delgado is putting up "Nintendo numbers," according to Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons. Good luck finding the off switch.
Delgado hit a home run last week at SkyDome that slammed off the top of the restaurant windows in center field, and he did it with the same effortless swing. Delgado appeared to flick at the ball, and he sent it so far that club officials scoffed at the estimated distance of 458 feet. General manager J.P. Ricciardi was ready to break out a tape measure.
Rick Helling will start against the Blue Jays tomorrow to conclude the rain-shortened series. He has allowed 14 home runs this season, three fewer than American League leader Brad Radke. On his list of preferences, facing Delgado must rank somewhere behind a root canal and an insurance seminar.
"You do your best to keep the damage to a minimum," Helling said. "Like with any good hitter, they're tough enough to get out when they're just swinging the bat average. But when they get hot, you really just hope they hit the ball at somebody."
Delgado is generating such force, it would be wise to duck.
"I'm seeing the ball good. I feel pretty comfortable at the plate," he said. "The biggest thing is we've got guys around me swinging the bat great so that makes my job definitely easier. Every time I come to the plate, I've got guys in scoring position."
It's true that the Blue Jays provide better protection than the Secret Service. They lead the majors with 432 runs scored, and manager Carlos Tosca is getting huge production out of players like Frank Catalanotto (.324) and former Orioles catcher Greg Myers (.345), along with more expected sources like leadoff hitter Shannon Stewart (.300) and center fielder Vernon Wells (.296, 61 RBIs).
But Delgado is the ringleader of this offensive circus.
"I played one year in Texas when Juan [Gonzalez] had 100 RBIs at the break. It was ridiculous," Helling said. "It sounds like, with 76, [Delgado] is probably on pace for having 100. The year Juan did it, everybody just thought that was the most unbelievable thing ever. Having 100 is considered a good year."
Only a player of Delgado's stature can be considered on the rebound after the numbers he put up the past two seasons. Apparently, hitting .277 with 33 homers and 108 RBIs wasn't considered adequate last year. Neither was the .279 average, 39 homers and 102 RBIs in 2001.
As the Blue Jays close the roof at SkyDome, Delgado keeps raising the bar.
In 1999, he became the fourth man in franchise history to reach 40 homers, going four beyond the mark, and drove in 134 runs. The following season, he batted .344 with 41 homers and 137 RBIs, and The Sporting News named him Player of the Year.
Toronto's management rewarded him with a four-year, $68 million contract - excessive by most standards, insane by theirs. It included a no-trade clause that became more burdensome as the Blue Jays sought to reduce payroll and Delgado didn't reach the same statistical heights.
His slugging percentage dropped from .664 in 2000 to .540 and .549 the next two seasons. His on-base percentage fell from .470 to .408 and .406.
"I felt like I could have done a lot better," he said. "If you look at the numbers at the end of the year, it's like, `That's not too bad.' But to have people criticize, that's nothing compared to what I say to myself.
"It's a nice problem to have when you drive in 100 runs and hit over 30 home runs, and people say you [stink]. I'll take that any day. But you always push yourself to be a better player and always try to push yourself not to be content. That's why I look back and say, `I really can do better than that.'"
Hitting coach Mike Barnett was convinced, too. He went to the video - one of his favorite pastimes - to compare stances from 2000 to the present.
Barnett has gotten Delgado to stand taller in the box and stay back on the ball. As a result, Delgado no longer is reaching for off-speed pitches and losing power. He no longer has holes in his swing. And opposing pitchers no longer feel safe.
"I'm definitely more comfortable," Delgado said. "I eliminated some of the movement. Last year, I was bending over too much from my top half. Right now I've got a better path to the ball."
There's already talk of Delgado being the league's Most Valuable Player for the first half, but it's much too early for him to react.
"All I'm worried about is what happens today," he said, "trying to get a win, trying to get my hits and help the team win, and see what happens in September."
Maybe that's when the real hardware will arrive.
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Blue Jays' Roy Halladay (9-2, 3.91) vs. Orioles' Omar Daal (4-7, 5.06)