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POWER OUTAGE : SkyDome Great for Pitchers, Not Sluggers

Associated Press

The SkyDome cost the city of Toronto $375 million, but a lot of the Blue Jay hitters wouldn’t give two cents for the place.

Whereas the Blue Jays have hit 63 homers in their 67 non-SkyDome games this season, they have only five in the first 14 games in their palatial new stadium. And although the ball carried well in their previous home, Exhibition Stadium, Toronto’s sluggers are finding that the opposite is true at the SkyDome.

“The ball doesn’t go anywhere,” outfielder George Bell said.

Opposing pitchers, accustomed to nightmarish wind currents at Exhibition Stadium, have spread the word around the American League that the SkyDome is a nice place to visit.

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“I knew the ball wasn’t going to go anyplace,” said Boston’s Mike Boddicker after beating the Blue Jays, 3-1, Friday night. “So even on 2-0 and 3-1 counts, I could come in with a fastball.”

The Blue Jays averages only a little more than three runs a game. Of their 45 hits in the last seven games, 40 were singles, one was a home run and the four others were doubles.

“We’re certainly not moving back to Exhibition Stadium,” Manager Cito Gaston said after Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Red Sox.

The biggest problems arise when the retractable roof is open. With the top up, the winds seem to be hitting the turtle-like shell over the center-field bleachers, where the roof folds up, and swirls back in toward the infield.

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Whatever the reason, the effect is devastating to power hitters, who said their best shots are being stopped dead by an invisible wall.

Fred McGriff, Toronto’s leading home run hitter with 18, said the dead zone between the alleys costs him dearly.

“It starts going good,” he said, extending his hand flat to mimic a soaring jet. “Then it just dies.”

With that, he pointed his hand downward and mimicked the sound of bombs dropping.

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McGriff and other Blue Jays found success at Exhibition Stadium by lofting the ball high into the wind. At the SkyDome, balls hit anywhere but down the lines have to be hit extremely hard or they’ll stay in the park.

Boddicker and rookie Eric Hetzel won consecutive 3-1 decisions Friday and Saturday. Roger Clemens gave up one run in nine innings Sunday, a game won by Boston, 4-1, in 11 innings. Toronto won Monday night, 3-2.

Boddicker had an 0-6 record with a 5.98 earned-run average against Toronto in his previous eight starts.

Hetzel, making his major league debut Saturday after a promotion from triple-A Pawtucket, R.I., gave up three singles in 5 2/3 innings. Clemens gave up six hits and struck out six in nine innings.

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All three challenged the Blue Jays with high fastballs, basically saying, “Here it is, go ahead and hit it,” a strategy that was asking for trouble in the pre-SkyDome era but seems perfect for the Blue Jays’ new home.


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