Bill Ripken squeezes out a little glory

April 07, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

It is left to his big brother to produce key home runs and clutch RBI. For Bill Ripken, success is measured on a less grand scale.

Such as the suicide squeeze he dropped yesterday in the Orioles' 2-0, Opening Day victory over the Cleveland Indians.

Ripken's bunt turned a potential bad play into a nifty bit of fifth-inning strategy. The Orioles just had taken a 1-0 lead on Chris Hoiles' one-hop, RBI double over the left-center-field wall.

With Leo Gomez on third and his No. 9 hitter coming up, manager John Oates called for the suicide squeeze on the first pitch.

Two things happened then that made it a tougher play to pull off. First, Gomez broke early from third and gave away the bunt. Second, Cleveland pitcher Charles Nagy threw high and inside to Ripken.

"That was not an easy bunt to get down," Oates said later.

But Ripken got it down, Gomez scored and the play loomed as one of the day's brighter developments.

"It's nice when people think of the small play," said Ripken, who hit .216 with 14 RBI in 104 games a year ago. "I'm not a big home run or RBI man. I have to get bunts down in order to help the team win. As it was, it was a big run. It gave [winning pitcher Rick] Sutcliffe a little breathing room."

Was it a sign of the times in Oates' managerial stewardship? A play that will be replayed through the summer, maybe?

The answer was yes and no.

"It's not something that, hey, we're going to go out and bunt, bunt, steal and do crazy things," Oates said. "You've got to have the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

"We had Bill at bat, and he hasn't been swinging well this year."

Ripken said the squeeze was on his mind as he went to the plate. It was on Gomez's mind, too. And Gomez said that he left third a little early.

"I'm slow. I don't have good speed," he said. "It was a fastball high, and Billy had to make a good play. He's a good bunter. We got the perfect situation."

The play seemed to catch the Indians flat-footed, although Nagy said he had expected it. Third baseman Brook Jacoby was in at the bag on the pitch.

"The only thing I wanted to do was make sure I got the bunt down on the ground," Ripken said. "If I get it on the ground, the run is going to score."

Asked when the suicide squeeze was last called for him, Ripken said, "I did one in spring training. And I did one against the Yankees, midway through last year.

"It's not one of those things you log in your memory banks. Ask the big boys about home runs they hit and they'll remember. The suicide squeeze is not one of the things that rank up there, though."

For one day, anyway, it gave Bill the RBI lead over brother Cal, the team's top run-producer. It is not a circumstance he expects will last long, though.

"The family RBI lead probably will be relinquished in the next game," Bill Ripken said, a contented grin on his face.

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