At .387, Mora sees no chance of .400


He says pitching better than in Williams' time

Orioles re-sign Kingsale

May 22, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora has no delusions about hitting .400 this season, or at least none that he's expressing.

He is leading the majors with a .387 batting average, but laughs off the notion that he could become the first player to hit .400 since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.

Mora said the modern hitter faces too vast of an array of pitches to hit .400.

In Williams' time, Mora said, "It was fastball, curveball, that's it. Now they throw split-fingers, knuckleballs, palmballs like that Boston closer [Keith Foulke], sliders, all kinds of pitches. There's like eight pitches now."

Mora must have heard oldtimers rolling in their graves because he qualified his comments by saying, "That's not an excuse. If you hit .400, it's still .400, even if it's in rookie ball."

Last season, Mora led the American League in hitting from June 9 until the final day before the All-Star break. His average fell to .317 at season's end, as injuries limited him to 69 at-bats after the break.

This year, he's been even better. Before going 2-for-5 last night, he was tied with New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada for the AL lead in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) at 1.087.

Barry Bonds topped all National League hitters with an otherwordly 1.442 OPS.

That statistic, which many consider to be the best measure of a hitter's value, reflected Mora's league-leading .474 on-base percentage and second ranked .614 slugging percentage.

But Mora insists he's not thinking about the numbers. "I think about winning," he said. "I'm just trying to help this team win.

"The good thing is I've got a lot of good hitters behind me. It's a big difference when you've got guys like [Miguel] Tejada and Raffy [Palmeiro] behind me. I don't have to worry about anything but getting on base."

Palmeiro gets first break

With Palmeiro mired in a 6-for-51 slump, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli kept him out of the starting lineup last night for the first time this season. Palmeiro had started the first 36 of the first 37 games at first base and the other at designated hitter.

"I'm just giving him a little break," Mazzilli said. "He hasn't been himself, and he's dealing with a little bit of a stiff neck. I figured I'd give him the day off against the left-hander [Angels starter Jarrod Washburn]."

Palmeiro, whose average has fallen from .322 to .256 during the slump, should be in the lineup tonight, Mazzilli said. The neck stiffness is not a concern.

Palmeiro certainly looked fine as a pinch hitter, pinning a leaping Chone Figgins to the center-field wall to catch his drive in the ninth inning.

Kingsale returns

The Orioles re-signed outfielder Eugene Kingsale to a minor league contract yesterday, and he will report to Double-A Bowie on Tuesday.

Kingsale, 27, became the first Aruban to reach the major leagues, when he came up with the Orioles in 1996. He played parts of four seasons with the Orioles, and also spent time with San Diego, Seattle and Detroit, posting a .251 career average.

He was batting .205 for Triple-A Portland, when the Padres released him May 10.

Luis Lopez starts at first

To replace Palmeiro, Mazzilli decided to go with the switch-hitting Luis Lopez at first base, bypassing left-handed-hitting B.J. Surhoff against Washburn.

Lopez, a middle infielder by trade, had spelled Palmeiro as a late-game defensive replacement four times this season, and he also made one start at first base for the Orioles in 2002.

Lopez also has some winter ball experience at first base. He said he was on a team in Puerto Rico that had four middle infielders in the starting lineup, so they switched off at first, and he got about 15 to 20 games there each season.

Last night was his first start for the Orioles this season. He also got his first hit, going 1-for-3 to lift his average to .100.

"Anything I can do to help the team," he said. "That's the reason I'm here."

Rooting on Roberts

Mazzilli sat down and gave Orioles leadoff man Brian Roberts a pep talk on the team flight from Seattle to Anaheim after Thursday's game.

"He was a little frustrated," Mazzilli said.

Roberts was riding a 3-for-39 slump and failed to execute a key sacrifice bunt in the third inning against Seattle pitcher Jamie Moyer, but Mazzilli put him right back in the leadoff spot last night. He went 1-for-4 with a walk.

Mazzilli moved designated hitter Jerry Hairston up to the No. 2 spot, behind Roberts, sliding Mora to third and Tejada to fourth, Palmeiro's spot.

Around the horn

The Angels had two cows on the field for a pre-game milking contest, pitting their own pitcher, John Lackey, against Orioles reserve Jose Bautista. It was good for a few laughs, until one cow started kicking, and Bautista wound up on his back, though apparently unhurt. ... Ripken Stadium is playing host to an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown this weekend, as Maryland takes on No. 21 Georgia Tech in a series that continues tonight and Sunday afternoon. For tickets, call the box office at 410-297-9292.

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