- Associated Press - Sunday, October 3, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - The decade-plus torrent of home runs slowed this year as major league pitchers enjoyed their most dominant season since before the Steroids Era.

An average of 1.90 home runs per game were hit, according to STATS LLC, the lowest average since 1.78 in 1993.

“There are a lot of power arms that we’ve seen, not just in our league, but in our division. The performance-enhancing drug testing has leveled the playing field a little bit,” Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think a lot of teams are making defense a priority. We’re seeing not only they’re taking hits away, but sometimes the defensive player isn’t the offensive player that some other guys are. There’s probably a lot of little things that are adding up.”

Home runs peaked at 2.34 per game in 2000. They fell 8 percent from last year’s average of 2.07 and dropped below two per game for the first time in 17 years.

“Definitely pitching has been very good this year,” San Diego Padres second baseman David Eckstein said. “Hopefully, it’s a sign that we’ll clean this game up.”

Long balls weren’t the only offensive measure to tumble sharply this year.

_Runs per game fell to 8.77, the lowest since 8.23 in 1992.

_Hits per game dropped to 17.51, the fewest since 17.35 in 1992.

_The major league batting average of .257 was the lowest since a .256 average in 1992.

_The major league ERA dipped to 4.07, the lowest since 3.74 in 1992.

“I think the strike zone is a little lower,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. “Over 12 years, I’ve never seen that low pitch get called. This year, I’ve seen so many low pitches called. Once they call it, you know you’ve got to swing. The next pitch that’s there, you’re going to get the ground ball or the strikeout. Home runs are down. It’s hard to drive a ball that low. Only a handful of guys can really hit that low pitch and really drive it.”

With the drop in offense has come a rise in strikeouts. The whiffs-per-game average of 14.12 was the highest it has been since major league baseball began, beating the previous high of 13.82 set last year.

“I don’t see why pitching can’t be dominant,” Padres setup man Mike Adams said. “In the early part of the 1900s I think pitching was very dominant, and then you had the whole Steroid Era, and that’s when hitting became dominant. Is it coincidental that the whole Steroid Era has come and passed and now the pitching era takes over? Who knows?”

In 2009, there were no 20-game winners for only the second time since 1900 in a non-shortened season, joining 2006. This year, the Yankees’ CC Sabathia (21-7), Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay (21-10) and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright (20-11) all reached the mark.

“It’s the Year of the Pitcher,” San Francisco reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. “You’re starting to see guys come up, newer, younger kids, and they’ve got good stuff and they pound the zone with it. I think good pitching has always beat good hitting.”

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