When the ball left Sam Horn's bat in the sixth inning last nigh it immediately prompted three questions.
Would it stay in the park?
Would it stay fair?
Why doesn't this guy play more often?
The last query is one of two that Horn and his managers havheard throughout the career of the lefthanded slugger, who has averaged a home run for every 16 at-bats in the big leagues. The other is: How can you play somebody who strikes out once every 3.3 at-bats?
Last night, the only question Horn worried about was whether himammoth drive down the rightfield line would be fair or foul. "I don't think about those kind of things," Horn said when asked if he thought his 19th home run of the season had a chance to become only the second fair ball to leave Memorial Stadium.
"I was just worrying about it staying fair -- I was afraid it had little hook to it," Horn said of the drive, which cleared the corner of the upper deck, landed two-thirds of the way up in the lower rightfield seats and was measured at 424 feet. The blast came after the second of three errors in a span of two innings by Yankees third baseman Pat Kelly and helped put the finishing touches on Bob Milacki's five-hit, 8-0 shutout.
It was the third home run in the last four games for Horn, whnevertheless was starting only his second game since Aug. 18 (a span of 19 games).
think Sam knows I haven't forgotten about him," said manager John Oates. "I've probably talked to him more in the last three to four weeks than anybody else, because he deserves that."
What Oates told Horn, in effect, was that his playing time woulbe severely diminished because of the return of Glenn Davis from the disabled list.
"When we left Milwaukee [Aug. 18], Sam was in a stretch wherhe was something like 1-for-18, and Glenn was coming off the disabled list," said Oates. "It was an easy decision to make at that time, but now he's had to sit for three weeks.
FTC "But he's not the only one. A lot of guys have lost at-bats -[Randy] Milligan, [Dwight] Evans, [Mike] Devereaux, [David] Segui. I've talked to them all and told them for the next four weeks, it doesn't matter how hot you are, you're not going to get as many at-bats.
"Unless you play shortstop, and wear No. 8, you can't count oplaying every day," said Oates. But the manager quickly added Davis, Chito Martinez and Luis Mercedes to his short list of
players, headed by Cal Ripken, who will play regularly the rest of the way.
"Glenn will get his at-bats and Luis will get a lot of playing time,said Oates. "I have a rough draft of what I want to do, but it's subject to change.
"For instance, I didn't have Sam scheduled to play tomorrow, bugoing to sleep on it. That doesn't mean he'll be in there, but I'll think about it.
"As an organization we've got a pretty good idea of what most othese guys can do. Martinez [whose 11th home run broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning last night] and Mercedes are two guys who have to get playing time so we can get a good look at them. We've got a lot of material to judge -- and a lot to put into the judgment tank."
Oates doesn't come out and say it in so many words, but hsounds like somebody who doesn't necessarily have to be convinced of what Horn can do. "He makes the most of his hits," said Oates. "He does strike out a lot, but if he's going to hit home runs like this, you've got to put up with the strikeouts."
Horn, 27, who has batted over 400 times only twice in his 10-yeaprofessional career, has a grasp on his role with the Orioles, but would like to make it a bit more secure. "I think it's important to every player who is trying to establish himself to finish strong," said Horn, who is completing his first full year in the big leagues. "I enjoy it here and I want to be here."
With a new ballpark that appears tailored for lefthanded powehitters on the horizon, the chances are strong that Horn fits into the Orioles' future. Exactly where remains to be seen.
That most likely won't be decided until the offseason, after thOrioles have gathered all their information -- and know whether they will have Davis in the lineup for at least another year.
In the meantime, Horn is giving them some interesting numberto contemplate. He already has logged career-highs in at-bats (271), home runs (19), runs batted in (51), runs (39), walks (38), extra-base hits (33) and, naturally, strikeouts (85). He also has tied a club record with three pinch-hit home runs.
Those numbers won't be insignificant when they go into thjudgment tank.
Last night was only the second time (in 17 games) that the Orioles made more than one error and still won. Cal Ripken made his 11th error of the year, a low number for a shortstop, but equal to his total of the last two years.
Among players with 10 or more home runs, Horn ranks seconwith a ratio of one every 14.3 at-bats and Martinez is fifth with one every 15.7. Cecil Fielder is the leader with a homer a dinger every 13.6 at-bats.