DETROIT -- If Cal Ripken is trying to put an exclamation point on the most productive season of his remarkable career he's doing it indelibly.
The Orioles' perennial All-Star shortstop continued his weekend rampage against the Detroit Tigers yesterday, establishing even more personal milestones in the process.
With a 4-for-5, two-home run, four-RBI performance in a 7-4 win over the Tigers, Ripken became the first player in Orioles' history to accumulate more than 200 hits in two seasons. He is within eight hits of his club-record 211, set during his 1983 MVP season.
His 114 RBIs represents a career-high and his .329 batting average has him on the fringe of the league leaders. With 82 extra-base hits, he is within five of Robin Yount's all-time record for shortstops.
Those are MVP-type numbers, especially for the best defensive player never to win a Gold Glove, but that possibility has not even entered Ripken's mind. "Why should you?" he asked, when somebody sked if he had thought about the MVP award. "It's counterproductive to think about those things until after the season is over," he said.
Ripken won't win the MVP award because the Orioles were never a factor in the division race, but he can draw some consolation from the fact that few players have ever put together the kind of all-around season he's enjoying.
"I can't explain how he does it," said Orioles manager John Oates, when asked how Ripken is able to maintain such a high performance and enthusiasm level. "A lot of people are searching for that answer.
"The closest I can come, and I'm not sure it's good enough, is that he approaches every game like a Little Leaguer -- or like I did in high school," said Oates. "When you only play 18 or 20 games a year, there's a high degree of anticipation and excitement.
"I see that in him every time he goes out to take [pre-game] infield practice. Whatever it is, it has to be something very special that none of us has," said Oates.
Ripken finds it difficult to explain his enthusiasm for the game, just as it is difficult for him to talk on the subject of durability. He hasn't had to answer questions about his 1,566 consecutive game streak this year, but The Streak is an underlying factor in any discussion of his season or his career.
"To me, it's an individual thing," Ripken said of his approach. "I don't have any secret. I enjoy putting on the uniform and I enjoy playing the game. Every day is enjoyable. Some are harder than others, sometimes you have to dig down a little deeper, but that's part of the game."
Ripken wasn't the entire offensive show for the Orioles yesterday, but he was close -- just as he was for the previous two games of this series. His home runs (Nos. 33 and 34) gave him a total of 11 runs batted in for the last three games.
It was a rude introduction for rookie lefthander Scott Aldred (2-4), who gave up both home runs to Ripken. "I made some critical mistakes to him," he said. "Down the road I think you'll maybe see me doing something different.
"I won't just be trying, but making sure I don't give him a pitch I can get beat with," said Aldred, who saw a 2-0 lead vanish with a hanging breaking ball Ripken hit into the upper deck for a three-run homer in the third inning.
One of Detroit manager Sparky Anderson's favorite pastimes is comparing his players favorably with others who have attained lofty status. He has one, Travis Fryman, he likes to compare to Ripken, and he does it in flattering style to the Orioles' stellar performer.
"You have to compare players to other players," said Anderson. "After 1993, you'll be able to compare Fryman with Ripken.
"That doesn't mean he's going to be as good as Ripken," Anderson hastened to add. "When you're dealing with Hall of Famers there's another area out there. You can say he has the same skills, but that doesn't mean he's going to have the same success."
At this point, at what figures to be the peak of his career, Ripken's success is well documented. But his game has been elevated to a higher level by his stunning offensive numbers this year.
Previously he'd never hit more than 27 home runs, and recently his average has hovered in the .250-.260 range. It started to look like his home run potential was going to stay in the 25-30 neighborhood, which is a classy but not ritzy area to hang out.
"Until you do it [reach a certain level], I guess there's always a question of whether you can or not," Ripken said about surpassing 30 home runs. "I always thought I had the power to do it.
"This might be the one and only time I do it, or maybe it won't be -- who knows?"
One thing is for sure -- to this point there have been no limits to Ripken's game. When he first started playing shortstop every day and was able to do it making less than 25 errors it put him in the above average category defensively.
When he took his number of errors to 13 in 1986 and then to eight three years later, he moved into a different category. Then last year he took his errors down another notch and lifted himself to a heretofore unattained level by making only three errors in 161 games, a record that figures to be in the book a long, long time.
This may prove to be Ripken's signature season, but it's still too early to put limits on what he may yet accomplish.
An MVP year?
A comparison of statistics between Cal Ripken's MVP-winning year in 1983 and this year:
Year .. .AVG .. H .. ..2B .. HR .. RBI
1983 .. .318 .. 211 .. 47 .. 27 .. 102
1991 .. .329 .. 203 .. 44 .. 34 .. 114