SEATTLE -- Mariners third baseman Edgar Martinez got all of a Ben McDonald curveball yesterday and drove it to the outer limits of the Kingdome, which raised an interesting question in the Orioles clubhouse:
Did he know what was coming?
Manager Johnny Oates started the debate when he wondered aloud whether it was possible to hit a sharp breaking ball that well without knowing what the pitch was going to be. He said it in a lighthearted manner, but wouldn't deny that the thought had crossed his mind.
"I'm not sure if I'm joking or not," Oates said. "There have been times when I've been able to get a couple of pitches."
McDonald used to have a bad habit of tipping his curveball to opposing hitters, but the club diagnosed the problem in 1990 and appeared to have corrected it.
No one has noticed anything obvious this year, but no one will discount the possibility that the Mariners picked something up in his delivery.
"I didn't see anything, but we'll continue to look," Oates said. "I talked to Boz [pitching coach Dick Bosman] and he assures me that there's nothing there. He looked at him in the bullpen. We've had Rick Dempsey look at him. They didn't see anything."
Martinez said he just guessed right and saw the ball well enough to drive it about 400 feet to left field.
"At that time, I was thinking off-speed pitch," Martinez said. "He had thrown me three curveballs in my first at-bat and struck me out with one. I just figured he would throw one. It was just a guess. I didn't see anything at all. He has a good motion. It's the same on a curveball as it is on a fastball."
Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey also homered off McDonald yesterday, but he tomahawked a high fastball into the first deck above right field. No intrigue there.
Bosman, who has monitored every pitch that McDonald has thrownthis year, is confident that there is nothing for the opposition to pick up on. But McDonald has been hit hard in two of his past three starts -- he also gave up seven runs to the Chicago White Sox on May 16 -- so the coaching staff is examining every possibility.
"I don't want my guys getting paranoid about something that's not there," Bosman said. "That's some thing you always look at, but I don't think so.
"It's not easy to take when you feel like you've got pretty good stuff and you get beat around. That's hard to take when you're a competitor, and he is that.
"We really looked at it hard the last couple of starts. I know there were some problems with that early in his career. There are some little things you can fall into."
McDonald also has looked back at past performances to determine whether there is any reason to alter his delivery, but he has not found any recent instance where he telegraphed a pitch to the hitter.
The Mariners hit some balls hard yesterday, but he isn't ready to concede that they have figured him out.
"I don't think so," he said. "I had three [career] starts against them and they were hitting .127. If they are getting the pitches, they just got them in the last few hours.
"That's the first thing you think when you have good stuff and they hit it -- they knew what was coming. But after going back and looking, I have to believe they didn't."