TORONTO -- Mention Joe Carter's name to an opposing pitcher and the response is as direct as it is brief.
"Don't make a mistake," is the advice that is easier to give than it is to follow. It isn't unusual to be classified as a "mistake hitter," but the few who are in Carter's class get more attention for a simple reason: They take advantage of more mistakes than others.
There are reasons for Carter's success. He admits that he'll sometimes dupe a pitcher into throwing him a pitch that ultimately is classified a mistake.
"The reason you don't see a lot of hits with the bases empty is because pitchers are coming after you with their best stuff," said the Blue Jays outfielder, who tormented the Orioles in the first two games of this weekend's series (5-for-9, four runs scored, three RBI, two home runs). "They come right at you, they aren't worrying about making a mistake, because it can only cost them one run. But when there are men on base, they're worrying about making a mistake that could cost them two or three runs.
"If there's runners on first and third and nobody out, it's a situation where you almost have to concede a run. But a lot of them [pitchers] won't do that. They'll try to make a perfect pitch. But if they do, they still have to do it two more times."
And that is precisely the situation in which Carter excels. He has driven in more than 100 runs in six of the last seven years, #F putting him in exclusive company.
The only players in history who have driven in 100 or more runs seven straight times are in the Hall Of Fame. The one year Carter missed (1988) he drove in 98 for the Cleveland Indians.
"I'm a totally different hitter with men on base," said Carter. "With two strikes, I'll cut down my swing in order to put the ball in play."
And often he'll put the ball in play with authority because he's swinging with advance knowledge.
"Sometimes you almost have to sacrifice your first at-bat, unless there's somebody on base," said Carter.
"Teams don't all pitch me the same -- some stay inside, some stay outside, and others will mix it up. So you have to pay attention to what they're trying to do to you. However they're going to try to get you out, that's how they're going to pitch to you the first time.
"That first at-bat is like an experiment on both sides. He [the pitcher] is saying 'what can I get him out with?' And I'm looking to see what he has working for him that night.
"If he gets me out -- he's going to use the same pitch to try to get me out later -- and nine out of 10 times, I'll be looking for that pitch."
And if Carter is looking for the pitch that is thrown, well . . .
/# "From a pitching standpoint, if
you make a mistake he hits it," said Orioles reliever Mark Williamson.
"When there's men on base, he sees the ball and swings at it. If it's a mistake, he swings harder."
Orioles starter Rick Sutcliffe didn't make a mistake yesterday, getting Carter to hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the third inning.
RF "He [Sutcliffe] was inventing pitches out there," said Carter. "He
dropped down and threw me a [sidearm] fastball down and in. I had never seen that one from him before."
When he came to the big leagues to stay in 1984, following the first of three major trades in which he's been involved, Carter had the reputation of being an undisciplined hitter. But nobody says that anymore.
"You should never go to the plate without having an idea, without trying to figure out what's happening,"
He developed his philosophy by listening to one of the game's hitting masters, Billy Williams.
"When I first signed [with the Cubs in 1981] I had a deal in my contract that I would spend two weeks in the big leagues," said Carter. "I wouldn't play, just be around and watch.
"Bobby Bonds was with the Cubs then and he told me 'you should pick
the brains of that man [Williams] every chance you get,' and I started learning things early.
"You've got to have extra energy to learn as much as you can," said Carter, who obviously heeded the advice of Bonds, now the batting coach for his son Barry with the San Francisco Giants. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't pick up something."
+ Usually it's an RBI or two.
Joe Carter has been traded three times in his career, the kind of statistic usually reserved for the unwanted. That's not true in this case. "I think it's an honor, and an accomplishment that a lot of teams want what I have to offer -- and that they've given up a lot of good players to get me, he said.
Here's the list of the players for whom Carter has been traded (Mel Hall and Roberto Alomar were also involved in two of the trades):
Pitchers: Rick Sutcliffe, George Frazier.
Catchers: Sandy Alomar Jr., Ron Hassey.
First baseman: Fred McGriff.
Second baseman: Carlos Baerga.
Shortstop: Tony Fernandez.
& Outfielder: Chris James.