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Fans in Baltimore Are Making Fred Lynn Feel Right at Home

May 24, 1985|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray may own Baltimore, but they may be sharing it with Fred Lynn before long.

In less than two months with the Orioles, Lynn, who spent the last four seasons with the Angels, has become a favorite of the Baltimore fans.

He didn't plan it that way, it just happened.

When Lynn became a free agent after last season and signed a five-year, $6.8-million contract with Baltimore, his intentions were to shore up the Orioles' outfield, knock in a few runs and provide the team with a solid bat behind Ripken and Murray, the No. 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup, respectively.

But when you win games with home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and when you leap over outfield walls to rob opponents of home runs, and when you make spectacular, diving catches, you tend to get noticed.

In three consecutive games this month, Lynn hit home runs in the last of the ninth, and two of those blasts brought the Orioles victories.

The first, a solo shot May 10 off Minnesota reliever Ron Davis, gave the Orioles a 6-5 win.

The next day, Baltimore was trailing Minnesota, 2-1, in the ninth when Ripken and Murray each singled off Davis. Twin Manager Billy Gardner brought in left-hander Pete Filson to pitch to Lynn, who responded with a three-run, opposite-field homer that gave Baltimore a 4-2 win.

Lynn also hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth against the Twins on May 12, but that only prevented a shutout. The Orioles lost, 7-3.

Still, the fans in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium were chanting, "Fred-die! Fred-die!" and wouldn't stop until Lynn came out of the dugout for a curtain call.

Lynn didn't make much of the attention, saying that the fans were already used to cheering, "Ed-die! Ed-die!"

But then came the game against Kansas City May 14, the Orioles' last home appearance before leaving on a 12-game trip that will bring them to Anaheim Stadium tonight.

In the fourth inning, Lynn went over the center-field fence to pull what appeared to be a home run by Onix Concepcion back into the park for an out. An inning later, he made a diving catch of George Brett's line drive to shallow center.

The crowd gave Lynn a standing ovation, but the former El Monte High School star again downplayed the adulation.

"These guys, Cal and Eddie, they are the Orioles," Lynn said Wednesday at the Oakland Coliseum, where Baltimore was playing the A's. "I'm just a helper. These guys can have the attention and all that stuff. I'll just go out and play my game. Winning is all I care about."

It's what the Orioles have been doing a lot of these days, and Lynn has contributed by batting .292 with 7 home runs and 21 RBIs.

And, surprising as it may be to some, he's played in every game. Lynn has been on the bench for just two innings this season, when Manager Joe Altobelli pulled him from a game the Orioles were winning.

Lynn's four years with the Angels were marred by the players' strike and two knee operations, a cracked rib, and groin and wrist injuries. He played in an average of 132 games during his last three seasons, but some questioned his desire to play in pain.

Not any more.

"He doesn't worry about getting hurt, like all the raps I heard before he got here," said Oriole second baseman Rich Dauer, Lynn's former USC teammate. "They said he didn't play in pain and he didn't like getting hurt, but he goes after everything in center field, and I've already seen him play in pain."

Lynn said as much himself.

"My type of injuries have come from aggressive play," he said. "Diving and running into walls has pretty much done me in as far as knees, ribs and broken bones. No one here has questioned my desire. When I can play every day, I can show people what I can do, but it's hard to do that on the bench."

"I haven't really hit any bad spots this year, and that comes from playing every day. I did that all of my career except the last few years, when I was doing that in-and-out stuff. It just wasn't working for me or the team.

"Sitting affects your confidence, and when you do get in the lineup, you're a little rusty. If you take a few days off, it's tough to maintain any continuity in your swing."

Lynn won't have to worry about sitting this year. Altobelli plans to play him every day, as long as he's healthy, and against left-handers, which Lynn said he prefers.

"It was hard to hit lefties last year because I didn't see many of them," he said. "But when I'm hitting well, I'd rather face a left-hander because they throw you strikes. Most of the time, I'll get a ball I can hit, whereas right-handers will try to pitch around you."

Dauer believes that Lynn is playing his best baseball since 1975, when he hit .331 with 21 homers and 105 RBIs for Boston and was named the American League's rookie of the year and most valuable player.

He also played center field with both grace and excitement, and his swing seemed smooth and effortless. One writer called him a Picasso at the plate.

He had another great season in 1979, leading the league with a .333 average, hitting 39 home runs and driving in 122.

But although his numbers in Anaheim were respectable--he averaged 22 homers and 80 RBIs for four years--Lynn never had a Boston-type year with the Angels. Everyone in California, himself included, expected him to have that great year, and that may be why so many fans were disappointed.

But Lynn doesn't feel any pressure in Baltimore.

"There's none," he said. "Baltimore is like a small big town. It's like San Diego. Anaheim and the L.A. area has so much more media that I could never get away like I can in Baltimore, where I can go fishing.

"Living in California, I had no way to get away from baseball to relax mentally. But I feel very relaxed here."

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