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Pirates

McClendon, Pirates don't buy into humidor theory

Joe Rutter
| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2003

DENVER -- Coors Field remains one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the major leagues. But as far as being baseball's runaway leader in runs scored, that's no longer the case.

This year, it's close, but no cigar.

Blame it on the humidor.

Scoring has decreased since the beginning of the 2002 season when the Colorado Rockies began storing their baseballs in a humidor. The climate-controlled chamber was introduced in an attempt to get rid of the beer-league softball game scores that were prevalent here.

So far, it appears to be working.

Coors Field, which is in its ninth season, ranks third among major-league facilities in runs scored, trailing The Ballpark at Arlington and SkyDome. Until the humidor was installed, Coors Field always was the No. 1 place to score runs in the majors.

Still, skeptics remain. Even though the Pirates were shut out twice and held to two runs and eighth hits in a three-game series last year, manager Lloyd McClendon refuses to give the humidor any credit. Ditto for third baseman Jose Hernandez, who spent the first two and a half months this season playing for the Rockies.

"A humidor is made for cigars and not baseballs," Hernandez said. "I don't think it does anything to a baseball. It's the same old Coors to me."

Scientists and numbers crunchers would beg to differ. Scoring and home runs have declined here since 2001, the year before the humidor was installed. An average of 13.4 runs was scored per game in 2001, with the number dropping to 12.21 last year and 11.86 so far this season. Homers declined from 3.31 a game to 2.86 last year to 2.77 this season.

The Rockies decided to build a humidor when studies revealed that the thin Rocky Mountain air was making baseball's tighter, harder and slicker. The role of the humidor was to keep the composition of the ball intact.

The problem was, the Rockies built the chamber before receiving official approval from Major League Baseball. It was a few days after the Pirates visited here last May that the Denver Post broke the story about the humidor.

"I still don't know what the rules are about it," McClendon said Friday. "To this day, I don't know what the league stance is on it. I still don't know what the Commissioner's Office ever said about it."

Baseball eventually approved the Rockies' use of the humidor, but the debate about it's impact on a baseball continues.

"People talk about it, but it's no big deal," Hernandez said. "You've still got to hit the ball. If you hit the ball good, it's still going to carry a long way here. That hasn't changed."

Sixteen months later, the Pirates returned to the thin air to begin another series with the Rockies, but McClendon still wasn't buying into the Humidor Hullabaloo.

"We weren't hitting when we were here the last time," he said. "It's not like we were killing the ball and driving it to the warning track and coming up short. We weren't making contact. You've got to hit the ball to see whether it's dead or not."

McClendon pointed out that Rockies scored 23 runs during that series sweep.

"They had to hit the same balls," he said.

And it's not like the Pirates had much success here pre-humidor, either. Taking into account the two previous games played here and the Pirates were batting .167 at Coors.

Still, what transpired here last season bordered on the surreal. The Pirates were shut out for the first time in Coors history on April 30. One night later, they became the first team ever to be shut out in back-to-back games here. They were held hitless over 12 full innings before Armando Rios singled with one out in the seventh inning May 2.

In 27 innings, the Pirates recorded eight hits, only one of which went for extra bases.

"It was kind of embarrassing," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "But we've got a chance to turn it around this time."

That matchup doesn't appear to favor the Pirates.

Consider that the Pirates' 12-23 record and .343 winning percentage is tied for the second worst in Coors Field history. Only the Milwaukee Brewers, with a 6-18 record and .250 winning percentage, have fared worse since the ballpark opened in 1995.

The Rockies, on the other hand, have a 40-17 home record that is tops in the major leagues. Scoring may be down, but the Rockies are finding a way to win.

McClendon thinks he knows the reason, and it has nothing to do with a humidor.

"Maybe," McClendon said, "pitching has something to do with it."

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