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Clearly the expansion Rockies' pitching staff has had a hand in the hitting orgy in the National League. Entering the final month of play, the Rocky Horror Pitching Show had an ERA of 5.62. But as Rettenmund points out, pitching is weak throughout the majors. "I've never seen so many 3-0, 3-1, 2-0 counts in my life," he says. "When a pitcher gets behind, he throws a fastball right down the middle—there aren't too many hitters who can't hit that. One of our guys, Archi Cianfrocco, said he got a 2-0 fastball one night that was so fat, he said he would be dreaming about it the rest of the year. Then he got the exact same pitch on the next pitch."
•The thin air at Mile High Stadium. All you need to know is, the Rockies have the highest home batting average in the National League and the lowest road batting average. Outfielder Jerald Clark, for example, was hitting .324 at home, .239 on the road. "That park's a joke," says Astro second baseman Craig Biggio. "I've got two homers there that should have been doubles." The ball takes off in the thin air.
"Best hitting park I've ever seen," says Rettenmund. "If Gwynn played there, he'd definitely hit .400. It's not just for homers. That's the fastest infield I've ever seen. To me, you have to be a fly-ball pitcher to be successful there. How stupid is that to say you want to keep the ball in the air in Denver?"
One day Sid Bream of the Atlanta Braves, a lefthanded hitter, checked his swing and hit a homer—335 feet to left-field. Because Mile High is so big in center (423 feet) and right (370), outfielders must play deep. Therefore a number of catchable fly balls drop in for hits, and routine ground-ball singles to center sometimes end up as doubles. If a ball gets over a centerfielder's or rightfielder's head, it's at least a triple. "Teams should play a 3-4 defense there," says Donnelly. "Put another guy in the outfield. Who needs a second baseman in that park?"
Colorado manager Don Baylor is tired of defending the place. "It's our park—what can you do?" he says. "You can't change the altitude."
Freak atmospheric conditions have been a boon to hitters elsewhere, as well. The wind has been blowing out at Chicago's Wrigley Field more this season than in recent years, which helps explain why Sosa has hit 23 of his 31 homers at home. Biggio says teammate Jeff Bagwell hit a homer at Wrigley this year "on a pop fly to the shortstop." Then, too, it's been an unusually hot summer, and meteorologists attest that the ball travels farther in hot weather. "One day in Philadelphia, it was 166° on the field," says Phillie reliever Mitch Williams. "I stopped for gas on the way home and puked in the parking lot. I've never done that."
•The Class of '68. That was the year of the pitcher, but it also was the year in which Bagwell, Olerud, Sosa, Thomas, Roberto Alomar of the Blue Jays, Carlos Baerga of the Cleveland Indians and Gary Sheffield of the Rockies' expansion brethren, the Florida Marlins, were born. Add three more players who were born a year later—Gonzalez, Griffey and Travis Fryman of the Tigers—and you have 10 of the best players in baseball. All are terrific athletes who, at 25 or younger, already have a few years in the big leagues and are entering their primes.
Problem is, none of them are pitchers. Of the promising arms in the Class of '68, Rod Beck (40 saves) of the Giants, Pat Hentgen (16-8) of the Blue Jays and Darryl Kile (14-6) of the Astros are just this season making their marks in the majors, while Ramon Martinez (9-9, who has had an elbow injury) of the Dodgers and Mike Mussina (14-5, shoulder and back soreness) of the Orioles already have run into problems.
It has been a season of firsts for many hitters, a season when no lead is safe, when the cleanup hitter always seems to be up. The Padres' number 4 man, Phil Plantier, hit seven home runs and drove in 30 runs for the Red Sox in 349 at bats last year. In a six-game span this season, from Aug. 23 to 29, he blasted five homers (a grand slam and four three-run shots) and had 18 runs batted in, running his season totals to 29 homers and 80 RBIs in 358 at bats. Included among those totals was, a monstrous three-run shot that capped San Diego's marvelous 13-run first inning. "For this team, that was a year of frustration coming out in one inning," says Plantier. "I got tired of getting up to shake everyone's hand. It was incredible."
It was the 1993 baseball season.