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Jeff Pearlman
May 20, 2002
Into Thin Air Mike Hampton has struggled with his control and lost his confidence in Colorado
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May 20, 2002

Baseball

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Into Thin Air
Mike Hampton has struggled with his control and lost his confidence in Colorado

After blowing a 3-1 lead and getting yanked in the seventh inning of last Saturday's game against the Mets, Rockies lefthander Mike Hampton went postal in the dugout, launching an expletive-laced tirade and knocking over a watercooler. "Yeah, but at least he used his right arm," Colorado pitcher Denny Neagle said following the Mets' 4-3 victory. "If you're going to snap, well...snap smart."

If only Hampton had been as cautious an inning earlier when he grooved a fastball to Joe McEwing, who knocked the pitch over the leftfield fence for a three-run home run that won the game. That's what this season boils down to for Hampton, the Rockies' would-be ace, who's in the second season of an eight-year, $121 million contract. At week's end he was 1-5 with a 6.85 ERA and had little command of the strike zone, issuing 30 walks in 44? innings while giving up 60 hits and 34 earned runs—both National League highs.

Against the Mets, Hampton consistently fell behind hitters, walking five—four of them left-handed, including pitcher Al Leiter on four pitches to lead off the fifth inning. A second-inning wild pitch in the dirt brought home the Mets' first run. "Good pitchers make leads stand up, and I've been unable to do that lately," a calmer Hampton said afterward. "I never thought about pitching around McEwing [even though Leiter was on deck, with two outs]. I just made a mistake."

Such has been Hampton's fortune on the mound since he spurned the Mets following the 2000 season and signed with the Rockies as a free agent. He was 9-5 with a 4.02 ERA at the All-Star break last year, but has been 6-13 with a 7.25 ERA after that. A 22-game winner with the Astros in 1999, he hasn't won consecutive starts since last August.

One National League scout believes Hampton has been pressing, which has led to mechanical problems. At times Hampton opens his right leg too far at the end of his delivery and then overcompensates for the lack of leg push by dropping his arm angle, which causes his pitches to sit up in the zone or veer far outside.

Colorado pitching coach Jim Wright disagrees and insists Hampton's problems can't be attributed to his mechanics. "Mike's always given up walks," says Wright of Hampton's career average of 3.60 bases on balls per nine innings. "Maybe he's a little frustrated. He just needs to get his confidence back."

The most amazing thing about Hampton's struggle: It had little to do with pitching at hitter-friendly Coors Field. His ERA was 4-50 at home, 8.76 on the road. Having already changed managers this season and fallen 7� games out of first in the NL West, the Rockies can only hope Hampton starts pitching like an ace again—soon.

Manny Ramirez Sidelined
Typical Bad Break for Boston

Whenever things go bad in Boston—and, frankly, when haven't they?—Red Sox fans contend that the team is jinxed. Off to its best start in 56 years, Boston was dealt a major blow in a 3-1 loss to the Mariners last Saturday when All-Star outfielder Manny Ramirez fractured his left index finger while sliding headfirst into home plate. Ramirez, who had an American League-leading .372 average, nine home runs and 35 RBIs, was expected to be put on the disabled list and will be out for four to six weeks.

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