Matthew Taylor: Recalling Rodriguez’s long shot worthy of bronze

Perhaps the best feature of Camden Yards is the bronze baseballs along Eutaw Street marking home runs that landed on the walkway during game action. Visitors who tour the ballpark inevitably wind up looking down at the pavement to find their favorite players and teams. The baseballs embedded in the sidewalk tell part of the story - team, player, date, and distance - but there’s more to know. That’s why I started writing the Eutaw Street Chronicles on Roar from 34.

Monday was the anniversary of a rare Eutaw Street occurrence. On April 11, 1997, Rafael Palmeiro became the first - and to date, only - player to reach Eutaw Street twice in the same game.

For context, consider that only one other player reached Eutaw Street that entire season. Here is that story:

It is the longest Eutaw Street home run and the only one to have been hit by a player for a team that no longer exists. On June 17, 1997, Henry Rodriguez of the Montreal Expos drove a Scott Kamienicki offering 443 feet to right field and hit the canopy over Boog’s Barbecue. The long solo shot was part of a fourth-inning rally that tied the game at 3, but the Orioles ultimately won 5-4 to end a 10-game Expos winning streak in the inaugural season of Interleague play.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson contemplated replacing his starting pitcher when Rodriguez stepped to the plate for an encore in the fifth inning with two on and two out. The Orioles had taken back the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning on Roberto Alomar’s sacrifice fly.

“When Rodriguez came up again, that was a tough call for me,” Johnson told the Baltimore Sun afterward. “If you get the ball up to him, it’s going to end up on Eutaw Street, as we already saw.”

Two days earlier, Rodriguez hit a 525-foot home run at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The emerging power hitter stroked a career-high 36 home runs in 1996, earned his lone All-Star Game nod and participated in that year’s Home Run Derby. His Eutaw Street shot came as part of a 26-homer season in 1997 and was the second ball to strike Boog’s Barbecue. Palmeiro nearly hit Powell himself a year earlier with his first Eutaw Street home run.

“We’re toying with putting a bull’s eye up,” Powell joked.

Johnson stuck with Kamieniecki in the fifth, and the pitcher rewarded his manager’s faith by striking out Rodriguez to end the threat and exact a measure of revenge on the Expos slugger.

The Orioles later extended their lead to two on Tony Tarasco’s eighth-inning home run. The insurance run came in handy when Randy Myers allowed an RBI single to Chris Widger in the ninth. Myers subsequently walked Rodriguez to load the bases, but earned his 27th save by inducing a fly ball from pinch hitter Andy Stankiewicz. Myers’ league-leading 45 saves in 1997 established a new Orioles record in the category.

The night’s events were overshadowed by the announcement that outfielder Eric Davis, who had been on the disabled list since May 31, had been diagnosed with colon cancer. The Orioles displayed a statement from Davis on the Jumbotron during the game that stated he was feeling well and anticipating a return to the diamond.

Davis came back Sept. 15 and later hit a key ninth-inning home run in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series to lead the Orioles to a 4-2 victory at Cleveland. He returned to the Orioles the following season and batted a career-high .327 with 28 home runs.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Read his ruminations about the Birds this week as continues a season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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