OAKLAND — Bret Saberhagen of the American League and Mike Scott of the National League, pitchers thriving in the year of the slugger, oppose each other in tonight's All-Star Game.
Saberhagen, 15-3, is making his first All-Star appearance. Scott, 10-5, worked in last year's game in Houston, which the AL won, 3-2. With a victory, the AL can assemble a two-game winning streak for the first time since 1957-58. The NL leads the series 36-20-1.
The 58th midseason classic--played for the first time in Oakland--is expected to be played under clear skies and comfortable temperatures.
At 23, Saberhagen has rebounded from a 7-12 year. The Royals' right-hander led Kansas City to the 1985 World Series championship, winning the Cy Young Award in the process.
Scott, Houston's ace right-hander, has won 18 games for two consecutive seasons. He captured the NL Cy Young Award last year and now leads the league with 148 strikeouts.
In a news conference before the off-day workouts, Scott and Saberhagen spoke of the barrage of home runs this season and the possibility of a lively ball.
"I can't prove anything but since I've been pitching, when a guy hits a ball off me I pretty well know if it's gone or not," Scott said. "This year, it seems if they get it up in the air you have to hold your breath.
"I don't know if they're making tests or what's going on but there's an awful lot of home runs this year. Like I said, when you give up a flyball you just don't know anymore. So I think they are (more lively)."
"I think it's a combination of three things," Saberhagen said. "The players are stronger, maybe the ball's a little juiced up, and it seems like the hitter is always looking for better wood and I think the wood is getting better."
American League President Dr. Bobby Brown announced baseball officials would test to determine if the baseball is indeed more lively this year. The National League has produced 152 more home runs than it did at this time last year, and the American League 219.
"Because of the increase in the number of home runs, what we have undertaken in the last 10 days or two weeks is we're gonna repeat some of the tests we did back in 1984 when we re-awarded the ball contract to Rawlings and all the other companies were bidding," Brown said. "So we're testing the baseball this year to see if the same set of data that was compiled in 1984 is repeated.
Oakland rookie Mark McGwire leads the majors with 33 homers, slightly behind the pace set when Roger Maris hit a record 61 in 1961. Toronto's George Bell has hit 29, Cincinnati's Eric Davis 27, St. Louis' Jack Clark 26, Atlanta's Dale Murphy 25, the Cubs' Andre Dawson 24, Minnesota's Kent Hrbek 23 and the Mets' Darryl Strawberry 21.
"If the ball is juiced up I wish they would throw it to me," added St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith, the leading vote-getter in fan balloting. Smith has hit no homers this season but has 46 runs-batted in.
When asked if the ball were juiced, NL President Bart Giamatti wisecracked, "No more than I am." He looked perfectly sober.
The ball may not matter because no one may hit it in the first place. The game is scheduled to start at 5:35 p.m. PDT, giving hitters a twilight background.
"It's terrible," said Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield. "It's great for TV but bad for the players. The best example of that was J.R. Richard in 1980 (in Los Angeles). He was throwing that 90 m.p.h. slider. Everybody knew the AL had no chance for three innings."
"It's a tough background," added Yankee outfielder Rickey Henderson, who played in Oakland for six seasons. "The sun is directly in your eyes. The fans in the outfield really don't give you a good background."
Scott could make hitting especially difficult with his split-fingered fastball, a pitch his critics claim is an illegal scuffball.
Scott laughed off a question on whether he brought an official ball-scuffer.
"I'll have the same equipment I always have," he said.