BALTIMORE — Mark Langston, the Angel left-hander who starts for the American League in tonight's 64th All-Star game, described Oriole Park at Camden Yards as a "serious hitter's park--no ifs, and or buts about it."
Couldn't prove that by Mike Piazza, the Dodger catcher, but Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez underscored Langston's view during Monday's annual All-Star home run contest.
Gonzalez, the Texas Rangers' left fielder, and Griffey, the Seattle Mariner center fielder, set distance records as they led an American League team that included Cecil Fielder and Albert Belle to a 21-12 home run victory over a National League team of David Justice, Bobby Bonilla, Barry Bonds and Piazza.
Piazza, in 10 swings against a Baltimore batting practice pitcher, failed to reach the seats.
"It was kind of embarrassing, but what are you going to do," Piazza said. "You're only as good as your pitcher, and the guy wasn't around the plate. I couldn't develop any rhythm against him. He should be starting for someone."
Griffey and Gonzalez each hit seven out in 10 swings, then tied at four each in an individual playoff before Gonzalez won a three-swing second round, 1-0.
Gonzalez also had two firsts--a shot estimated at 470 feet off the green hitter's eye in dead center and another off the third-deck facade, which is about six stories high and 450 feet from the plate.
Griffey became the first to hit the warehouse behind the elevated right-field bleachers, on a drive estimated at 445 feet.
Piazza could laugh later and say he would work on regaining his form during batting practice tonight.
"I don't want to go into another two-week slump where I'm trying to pull everything," he said, adding that he will spend the early innings tonight in the bullpen, attempting to gain insight into Steve Avery, Bryan Harvey and the NL's other pitchers.
"I don't expect to gain an edge, but every little bit helps," he said.
Some have portrayed this All-Star game as a battle between the National League and Toronto Blue Jays.
Besides John Olerud, Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, winners of the fan voting, American League Manager Cito Gaston of Toronto selected four other Blue Jays--Devon White, Pat Hentgen, Duane Ward and Paul Molitor. Four of the first five hitters in the AL lineup are Blue Jays.
Gaston doesn't apologize, although he has been criticized for naming seven of his own and leaving off Detroit Tiger catcher Mickey Tettleton, who leads the majors with 24 homers and has 73 runs batted in, only four fewer than Fielder.
"I took six world champions and one Hall of Famer (Molitor)," he said of the Blue Jays. "I don't think I have to apologize to anyone.
"I've been criticized for years--especially in Toronto. The one thing about (managing) is that you're going to be criticized. You can't satisfy everyone."
Gaston suggested that Tettleton was victimized by the rule requiring one player from every team. He selected another catcher, Terry Steinbach, as the Oakland Athletics' only representative.
Gaston said he would favor expanding All-Star rosters from 28 to 32.
With five left-handed hitters in the NL lineup, Gaston was determined to start a left-handed pitcher and chose Langston (9-3 with a 2.82 earned-run average) when New York Yankee Manager Buck Showalter asked him not to use Jimmy Key (11-2, 2.31 ERA) for more than an inning.
Key is scheduled to start Thursday for the Yankees, who are only a game behind the Blue Jays in the AL East and have already penciled in their entire second-half rotation, with Key scheduled to start twice against Toronto, his former team.
Gaston said that with only nine pitchers, he wanted his starter to go two innings. He said he would probably use Key for an inning at some point, insisting that he wasn't upset by Showalter's request.
"I hope that if I'm ever in the same situation, the All-Star manager will show me the same respect," Gaston said. "The All-Star game is important, but the ultimate is the playoffs and the World Series. No manager is going to alter his rotation just so a pitcher can work in the All-Star game."
The Angels had already decided to give Langston extra rest, and he is not scheduled to start again until Saturday.
Said Key of his inability to start the All-Star game: "I'm disappointed, but the Yankees own me. My responsibility is with the Yankees."
Langston's record would be better if the Angels' bullpen, which has blown eight saves in all, hadn't blown five of them after inheriting Langston leads.
Coincidentally, Bryan Harvey, the former Angel closer, is here as a National League All-Star and ace of the Florida Marlins' bullpen.
The Angels exposed Harvey to the expansion draft, allegedly because they had doubts about his surgically repaired elbow. Harvey believes they simply didn't want to pick up the $10.25 million remaining on his contract.