Will Cal's shot be a shot in the arm?

JOHN EISENBERG

September 15, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

Cal Ripken hits a home run and it becomes legal to wonder about what might be possible.

Jose Mesa turns the Blue Jays into jelly in Toronto and it . . .

. . . it . . .

What?

Sorry. I lost my train of thought. Everyone just started shouting there all at once.

Yeah, you read that right. He hit one. He really did. A baseball. Into the seats. On the fly. Not in batting practice.

A home run. A real home run. Ripken hit one. Cal, not Billy. Cal Junior, not Cal Senior. A home run. Over the fence. Last night. At Camden Yards. Sixth inning.

What?

No, I'm being serious. Really. Go ahead, call someone. Anyone. They'll back me up. They will. It happened. It really did.

He hit a 3-2 pitch off someone named Rick Reed. The ball left the park. On the fly. Nothing weird.

The 270th homer of his career.

It had been awhile.

What, you thought he was never going to hit another one?

Just because it had been 73 games since his last one? Seventy-three games and 291 at-bats? Almost half a season since his last home run?

OK, OK. You're right. It really, truly was beginning to seem like he might never hit another one. Even Cal admitted, after the Orioles' 2-1 win, that he was not sure if it was a home run when it left his bat.

"It had been so long," he said.

What?

Yeah, he was joking.

But sure, he was happy about it. Really happy. Why not? First he signs his big contract. Now this. The talk shows might have to shut down, but you know he's going to sleep better.

"Hopefully," closer Gregg Olson said, "now he'll get hot."

A point worth raising on a night when it became legal to wonder what might be possible.

Up in Toronto, Jose Mesa was shutting down the Blue Jays. Took a shutout into the ninth. Won the ballgame, 2-1. Joe Table lives! The Jays are still up by four games in the standings, but there are all those Blow Jay ghosts floating around out there, and hey, what happens if Ripken gets hot?

What?

Yeah, that's what I said: What happens if Ripken gets hot?

No, I'm not joking. You're right, he was hitting just .239 before the game. So what? After what he has been through this season, you're expecting anything about it to make sense?

The fact is that he had three hits last night, a single and double as well as his homer. He hit the ball hard and looked comfortable at the plate.

"I was consistent every time at bat," he said.

As for the home run, "maybe it relieves some of the pressure," he said.

So, what if?

What if he is starting to put his swing back together now, of all times, in the middle of September, when the games are the most important? What if, freed of the burden of the home run drought, he suddenly begins to carry the club, as he has done at various points in each of the last 10 seasons?

What if?

"You'd love to get up here and say that [it was going to happen]," he said, "but I'm smart enough to know it doesn't mean it's going to happen for the rest of the season."

But, at four back with 19 left, what can the Orioles do but play what-if? Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux have carried the offense all season. If they don't hit, the Orioles don't win.

It caught up with them last week, and the pennant race disappeared. Vanished. Evaporated. Eviscerated. Dissolved. Faded to nothingness.

It had a wife and kid in Baltimore, Jack, and went out for a ride and never came back.

OK, I'll cool it.

But on a night when Ripken finally homered and Mesa scared up all those Blow Jay ghosts, what becomes the limits of possibility?

What if Ripken gets hot? I'm not joking. Give the guy some credit, all right? With all this talk about him getting older and needing days off and crouching too much to hit homers, you'd figure he was 64 years old.

This much we know: You can't give up on the Orioles just yet, primarily because the Jays have a tradition of passing out second chances as though they were pieces of lettuce in a big plastic bowl at a salad bar. (Hey, it's all you can eat! There's always more!)

So maybe Ripken starts hitting homers again and things get very interesting. Just when you thought the season was over.

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