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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Why are home run balls flying out of Citi Field at record pace this year?

In the first four games in Flushing, the Mets and their opponents (the Nationals and Twins) totaled 21 home runs.

Pete Alonso of the Mets follows through on

Pete Alonso of the Mets follows through on his seventh-inning, three-run home run against the Nationals at Citi Field on April 7. Credit: Jim McIsaac

What in the name of Coors Field is going on at Citi Field?

The Mets’ spacious stadium, which is known for suppressing offense and limiting home runs, played like a Little League ballpark during the team’s first homestand of the season.

Balls were flying out at a record pace. But it wasn’t just the dingers. According to the participants, most balls hit in the air were carrying much farther than they usually do in April, when the weather is colder and the humidity is lower than it is in mid-summer.

It is generally accepted as a fact that baseballs travel farther in warm, humid weather. It also is a generally accepted fact that Citi Field is a pitcher’s park.

“From what I gather, from what I see, it’s tough to hit homers in our ballpark,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said before the April 4 home opener. “I think the way the ballpark’s configured, it’s tough to hit homers.”

Then the games began. And some weird stuff happened.

In the first four games in Flushing, the Mets and their opponents (the Nationals and Twins) totaled 21 home runs. Minnesota hit another one in the homestand finale on Wednesday, meaning Citi Field gave up 22 homers in five games (11 for the Mets, 11 for the visitors). That’s an average of 4.4 homers per game and was the fifth-most at an MLB ballpark when the Mets hit the road on Thursday.

The 11 homers by the Mets were their most ever through five home games.

In 2018, 167 homers were hit at Citi Field, an average of 2.06 per game and the 21st-highest total among the 30 major-league ballparks.

ESPN.com’s Park Factor metric rated Citi Field as the most difficult ballpark to score runs in during the 2018 season. This year? Eighth-easiest going into Friday with 73 runs combined in the five games (14.6 per).

What gives? It’s the same ballpark.

“The ball is flying,” Callaway said. “I can’t explain it. Maybe the hitters are just better. But it seems like it’s going a little bit further than usual for this time of year.”

The first reaction would be to say Major League Baseball is juicing the baseballs to produce more home runs. But Callaway said he’s noticed balls flying out in batting practice, too, when older balls are used.

“I do feel like the ball is carrying more [during games],” Callaway said. “It’s carrying more in BP. Traditionally, your BP balls are balls that are left over from last year that you didn’t quite use because I think you get about a $500,000 budget for balls and you have some left over.”

On April 6, the Mets hit five home runs vs. the Nationals, all of which went more than 400 feet, including shots by Pete Alonso (427 feet), Robinson Cano (429) and J.D. Davis (446). MLB.com estimated the five home runs went a combined 2,121 feet.

Davis’ first home run was (at the time) the hardest-hit homer in the majors this season with an exit velocity of 114.7 mph, according to Statcast. But Davis didn’t expect the drive to right-center to clear the fence.

“Off the bat, I knew the ballpark played deep,” he said, “so I was busting my butt out, thinking maybe a double or a triple.”

On Tuesday, in a game started by Jacob deGrom, the Twins and Mets totaled 10 home runs. Six were hit by the Twins, with an unfathomable three coming against deGrom, including back-to-back shots in the third inning.

And it was not warm during the homestand. The average game-time temperature for the three day games against the Nationals was 58 degrees.

Michael Conforto, who homered in three consecutive games from April 6-9, said the wind usually knocks down fly balls at Citi Field. But that didn’t happen during the first homestand.

In the two night games against the Twins, the temperature was 46 degrees at game time (with a 10-mph wind) on Tuesday when the 10 homers were hit and 54 (with a 16-mph wind) on Wednesday, when one ball went over the wall.

So the wind doesn’t seem to have been much of a factor. Anyone who attended either of those games can you tell it was much colder than that as the night got longer.

Before the home opener, The Wall Street Journal published an article about the run-suppressing characteristics of Citi Field that called the 11-year-old stadium “an almost unfathomable nightmare for anybody unfortunate enough to step into the batter’s box.”

For five days in April 2019, it wasn’t.

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