B. Ripken hits on his biggest problem

July 02, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

As far as Bill Ripken's batting average is concerned, yesterday was one of those good news/bad news deals.

The good news is the BA took a 22-point hike. The bad news is that it was only .206 when the day began.

Ripken went 4-for-4 with a home run (No. 3) as the Orioles beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-4, yesterday, bouncing back nicely with consecutive wins after losing three of the first four games of the homestand.

The Orioles are off today, open a three-game weekend series in Minnesota tomorrow and then return home for seven games (three against Chicago, four against Minnesota) that lead into the All-Star break.

Unlike the more famous of the Ripken brothers, finding a level of consistency has been a continuous struggle for Bill. His defensive skills are unquestioned, but offensively he's been a feast-or-famine kind of guy.

As many have said: "If Bill Ripken hits .250, he's an every day player."

Unfortunately that hasn't been entirely accurate. "I'm a .250 hitter [actually .247 going into this season] for my career," he said, "but I've never hit .250."

What he has done is hit .308 over a half-season (1987), .207 over a full season (1988), and .239, .291 and .216 over the last three years while playing between 104 and 129 games. Somewhere, it would seem, there must be a middle ground.

"I would hope so," Ripken said after the second four-hit game of his career (Aug. 2, 1989, in Boston was the other), "although it would be OK if the high numbers came around again.

"It's the low numbers that get you. There's no question they can weigh heavy on your mind."

After a game like yesterday, when admittedly he squeezed in a couple of hits (a two-run ground-ball single and a broken-bat blooper), Ripken figures he can't look at where he has been (.206), but where he hopes to be headed.

"You just try to be consistent," he said. "This [the four-hit game] is like a platform to build on -- you know you're not there, but it's a starting point."

Ask Orioles manager John Oates if Ripken is capable of being a .250 hitter, and you get a standard reply. "He's been better than that," said Oates, referring to the .308 and .291 years.

But what about on a consistent basis? "I think he has the ability to do that," said Oates, "but we'll have to wait and see. When he has a game like today, you ask yourself, 'How in the world can he be hitting .206?' "

It might not have been pure coincidence that Ripken had a big day yesterday. He went into the game hitting .750 (6-for-8) against Milwaukee starter Bill Wegman, and his first three hits came off the righthander.

A week ago in Milwaukee, Oates defied those numbers and started Mark McLemore at second base. It was one of those gut decisions that worked out right, but maybe for the wrong reason.

"Mac went 0-for-3 against Wegman, and after his third at-bat, I knew I would play Bill the next time," said Oates.

"But, if you remember," said Ripken, who did (and so did Oates), "Mac got a big hit off the reliever [Darren Holmes] that helped us win the game.

"I don't think you can explain it," Ripken said of his success against Wegman, against whom he's now hitting .818. "You're aware of it, but you really don't think about it. If you start thinking, you can get in trouble. Every at-bat is different.

"He threw me sinkers and I managed to get two ground-ball hits. Then [on the home run] he missed with two more and I figured I'd get a little better pitch to hit. I knew he didn't want to walk me -- they had just scored two runs, and you hate to give up runs when your team has just scored."

Wegman did give Ripken a better pitch to hit -- and he hit it a lot better. Into the left-centerfield seats, a blow measured at 411 feet by the inexact tale of the tape. "I think IBM might've been a little off," said Ripken.

Ripken's first hit, a single that Milwaukee third baseman Kevin Seitzer prevented from being a double with a diving stop, set up the Orioles' second run in the second inning (produced on Jeff Tackett's double, after a leadoff homer by Sam Horn).

His second hit, a ground ball between short and third with the bases loaded, sparked a four-run third, climaxed by Brady Anderson's 14th homer of the year. Ripken's home run in the sixth answered the Brewers' two-run rally off Ben McDonald (8-5) in the top half of the inning.

The productive afternoon got Ripken halfway from where he didn't want to be (.206) to where the consensus says he needs to be (.250) to stay in the lineup on a daily basis.

Mixed in with Ripken's big day, the home runs by Horn and Anderson, two doubles by Tackett and two more hits by Joe Orsulak was yet another strong performance by Alan Mills. The righthander effectively set up Gregg Olson's 21st save (in 23 chances) by stifling the Brewers on one infield hit in two innings.

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