Orioles fly high with long ball

- Wayne Coffey

Two weeks ago at Fenway Park, in a game between the best teams in the American League East, a remarkable event occurred. A Baltimore Oriole stole a base. His name was Joey Rickard. It came in the sixth inning of a 5-1 win against the Boston Red Sox. The Orioles haven’t stolen a base since, and why would they when they have a lineup that has spent the first half of the 2016 season impersonat­ing Murderers’ Row?

Having played their own game of Home Run Derby almost nightly through 75 games, the first-place Orioles brought their long-ball show to Petco Park for two games this week in advance of the real Derby and the All-Star Game.

Adam Jones, a San Diego native, promptly hit the second pitch of the series over the rightcente­r-field fence. Before the night was done, left fielder and No. 8 hitter Hyun Soo Kim ripped a line drive over the wall in right, and first baseman Chris Davis, the reigning AL home run champ, mashed a long homer to center, running the club’s major leaguelead­ing total to 123 and pushing the Orioles’ June total to 54 — one short of the record for the month held by the 1996 Oakland Athletics.

They tied the record Wednes-

day, when Mark Trumbo hit a two-run shot for the team’s 124th homer to help power a 12-6 victory to sweep the series. The Orioles are on pace to belt 261 homers, which would be three short of the Seattle Mariners’ season record set in 1997.

“This is easily the most powerful lineup I’ve ever been a part of,” Trumbo told USA TODAY Sports.

Trumbo, a 6-4, 225-pound slugger acquired from the Mariners for backup catcher Steve Clevenger, leads the majors with 23 homers. Right behind him are Davis (19) and third baseman Manny Machado (18), followed by Jones (16) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (13).

Homers are up by 15% around the majors; the Orioles can’t take all the credit, just a healthy share of it. If their long-ball rates hold, all but Davis are heading for career-high totals. Collective­ly, the Orioles are scoring virtually half of their runs via home run, a percentage exceeded only by the New York Mets (52%).

“We’re not sitting there playing base to base,” Jones said. “We’re trying to drive the ball and hit the ball out of the park and play great defense. That’s our M.O.”

And don’t think Orioles ace Chris Tillman (10-1) doesn’t appreciate it. His teammates have averaged 6.4 runs in his five June starts and well over five runs per game over his two-month, ninegame winning streak.

“I’m glad they’re on my side,” Tillman said. “There’s no break in this lineup. It’s fun to come to the ballpark every day and watch them go to work.”

It was just last October that the Kansas City Royals rode lock- down relief pitching, aggressive­ness on the bases and a put-the-ball-in-play offensive mantra to a World Series title.

The lumbering, lumber-wielding Orioles — yes, they are last in the majors with 12 stolen bases — couldn’t be more different.

“It doesn’t do a whole lot of good for our guys just to go up there and simply try to make contact,” Trumbo said. “We’re trying to do some damage.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter cautions against seeking a larger truth, or a meaningful trend, though.

“We’re going to play according to the skills of our players,” Showalter said. “If I had some of the skills that (Royals manager) Ned (Yost) and them have in Kansas City, I’d do the same thing. There are different ways to do it. There’s not some (magic formula).”

For his part, the architect of the Orioles, general manager Dan Duquette, thinks the club’s offensive success — its total of 400 runs is second to the Red Sox in the American League — goes beyond the homers. It was Duquette who made the deal for Trumbo, who has recharged his career and brought right-handed power the same way Nelson Cruz did with his 40-homer season two years ago. And it was Duquette who stunned many baseball people by re-signing free agent Davis to a seven-year, $161 million deal.

In March, he added Pedro Alvarez, a defensive liability who would nudge Trumbo from DH to right field but also a slugger who’s averaged 29 home runs per 162 games.

“We knew we had power, but we’ve improved our approach, too,” Duquette said. “That’s a good reflection on team management and the work of Buck and (hitting coach) Scott Coolbaugh.”

A year ago, the Orioles’ on-base percentage was .307, just 0.02 from the bottom of the league. This year their on-base percentage is .334 , a number that again trails only the Red Sox. It’s a striking upgrade, and it’s no acci- dent, as getting more guys on base has been a point of emphasis from the start of spring training. Kim has a team-leading OBP of .431, one of the reasons Duquette signed him out of South Korea. Machado’s .390 OBP is a career high by a wide margin.

“We’re just battling a little more,” Jones said. “From this lineup this year I’ve seen more 0-2s turn into 2-2s and 3-2s than I ever have. As opposed to 0-2, 1-2 and then a strikeout, we’re putting the ball in play, fouling balls off. Battling. Passing the baton. (We’re) making every one of the 27 outs hard. That’s just a testament to our makeup.”

Lest you think the Orioles’ home runs are a byproduct of playing half of their games at cozy Camden Yards, think again. They are averaging more homers per game on the road (1.72) than at home (1.32). They are, however, a much harder team to beat in Baltimore (31-13 vs. 16-17). With seven more games on this trip — four at Seattle and three at the Los Angeles Dodgers — the Orioles hope to do something about that before returning home to play the Los Angeles Angels and commemorat­e the 50th anniversar­y of the 1966 World Series title.

By then, they figure to have pounded another dozen or more long balls. Maybe they will even steal a base along the way — not that the big leagues’ leading slugger is terribly worked up about that.

“The ultimate goal is us getting into the playoffs and doing a lot of damage,” said Trumbo, on pace for a career-high 48 homers. “That’s far bigger than anything I’m doing personally. It’s about us continuing on the pace we’re going and making something happen.”

 ?? DENIS POROY, GETTY IMAGES ?? Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo watches his major league-high 23rd home run leave the park Wednesday in San Diego.
DENIS POROY, GETTY IMAGES Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo watches his major league-high 23rd home run leave the park Wednesday in San Diego.
 ?? DAVID BUTLER II, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Adam Jones, left, and Manny Machado, right, have combined for 34 of the Orioles’ 124 homers.
DAVID BUTLER II, USA TODAY SPORTS Adam Jones, left, and Manny Machado, right, have combined for 34 of the Orioles’ 124 homers.

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