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AL heavy favorite in home run derby


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Batting in the ninth inning with the game on the line is not pressure. Batting in the seventh game of the World Series is not pressure.

Batting in the All-Star workout, that's pressure.

"It's a fun thing, and everybody likes to watch it," Atlanta All-Star first baseman Fred McGriff said. "But if you're in it, there's pressure. You know everybody is watching, and the last thing you want to do is pop up."

McGriff will watch this year's contest, which is set to begin at 3:30 p.m. today at The Ballpark in Arlington. The American League squad rates as the heavy -- by at least 36 pounds per man -- favorite.

The AL entrants are Boston's Mo Vaughn, who shares the major-league lead with 24 homers -- with Cleveland's Manny Ramirez and Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox. Oakland's Mark McGwire, who also has 24 homers, was to be on the team, but he pulled out of the All-Star Game yesterday with a concussion.

Ramirez, Thomas and Vaughn, whose average size is 6 feet 2, 232 pounds, have combined for 63 homers. That matches the National League's full-squad total.

The 6-0, 190-pound NL group consists of Cincinnati's Ron Gant and Reggie Sanders, Los Angeles' Raul Mondesi and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs.

"We have better pitchers in our league," Mondesi said kiddingly. "That's why we don't hit as many homers."

Mondesi carries a tortured legacy into the competition. Los Angeles All-Star catcher Mike Piazza competed the past two years. In 20 swings, he failed to homer.

"No homers," Mondesi said in mock outrage. "My little boy could hit one homer."

AL manager Buck Showalter of the New York Yankees expects something less than the explosion of the 1992 contest at San Diego. The AL won, 27-13, in the largest combined output for the nine years of the event.

"They were hitting so many homers in San Diego that they had to take a break," said Showalter, a coach on the AL team that year. "They won't be able to do that here."

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