Record home runs in April

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The Independent Online

For US Major League Baseball pitchers, this was the cruellest April ever.

Batters hit 931 homers, a record for the month and 195 more than last April, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's official statistician.

"I don't like it. I think it's taken away a lot from the game," Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine said. "I feel like what Mac (Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals) and Sammy (Sosa of the Chicago Cubs) did two years ago should be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. I'm not so sure it's going to be. I think it's definitely tarnished the image or the excitement associated with the home run."

Hitters didn't quite reach the record for any month - 980 last May.

Not including the four hit in March during the Mets-Cubs series in Japan, there's been an average of 2.56 homers per game, up 15 percent from the average of 2.22 last April. The previous record for April was 826 in 1996.

By comparison, there was an average of 1.38 homers in April 1968, the year offense dropped so low that owners lowered the mound from 15 inches (38 centimeters) to 10 inches (25 centimeters) after the season.

"It's not a good time for pitchers, there's no doubt," said Kevin Brown on the Los Angeles Dodgers. "There are a lot of ways to get hurt out there, the way the ball's flying."

The biggest change has been in Houston. In 1999, homers at the Astrodome averaged 1.54 per game. In the first 12 games at new Enron Field, there have been 46 home runs, an average of 3.83. That's even higher than April's 3.10 average in 10 games at Coors Field, until now baseball's most prominent ballpark for home run hitters.

Houston's Jose Lima gave up eight homers in three starts covering 17 innings. He gave up 30 in 246 1/3 innings last season.

Jermaine Dye of the Kansas City Royals led the majors in April with 11 homers, while San Francisco's Barry Bonds, Atlanta's Andres Galarraga and the Dodgers' Gary Sheffield shared the National League lead with 10. McGwire and Sosa each hit eight.

Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco averaged 2.5 homers per game, identical to last year's April average at 3Com Park, the Giants' old field.

Only Comerica Park in Detroit has been a pitcher's friend among the new sites. This year's average was 1.36, down 36 percent from last year's average of 2.11 at Tiger Stadium.

"It's one thing for the legitimate home-run hitters to be going out there and doing it," Glavine said, "but it's everybody else that makes you kind of wonder what the heck's going on."

Some say it's due to stronger batters or the lowered quality of pitching due to expansion. New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine says that hitting has improved so much that pitchers sometimes are afraid to throw strikes.

Commissioner Bud Selig says he isn't concerned about the increase, and that as far as major league baseball can determine, the ball isn't any different.

"I can't remember seeing so many guys hit home runs the other way," Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel said. "It used to be you could pitch a guy on the outside part of the plate and not worry about it hurting you. Not anymore."

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